By Devin Rose
When Hurricane Sandy hit New York City last month, Dan Bogojevich was sitting at home with his wife watching the news coverage on TV. The River Forest realtor had helped with relief efforts before, and his wife knew as they watched that those other trips would not be his last.
She looked at him and said, "You're going, aren't you?" Bogojevich recalled in an interview this week. First he had to make a phone call.
He called his friend Rich Miller, an officer with the New York Police Department, to find out if Miller and his family were OK. They were, but Miller told his friend that over 100 homes had been burned to the ground in the Rockaway Peninsula in Queens. The area was home to many police officers and firefighters who were out rescuing others while their homes were being destroyed.
The residents had nowhere to sleep. There were no stores open to buy food. They had no heat, electrical power for refrigeration or gas for cooking. Bogojevich told Miller he wanted to help.
So he organized a relief effort with Alisa Coghill, a colleague at Gagliardo Realty, and a few other relatives and friends. Bogojevich sent an email to his contacts both in the community and beyond to tell them he would be making a trip to New York and was looking for donations.
Once the word went out locally, he received canned goods from students at Julian Middle School, who had been planning to give them to the Oak Park-River Forest Food Pantry. He collected money from members of the Oak Park Association of Realtors, who were coincidentally holding a meeting the week he was planning to leave. The owners of Maria's Mexican Restaurant (on Harlem north of Oak Park) where the meeting was held donated their profits from that night to the cause. And the owners' son got the group in touch with a restaurant supply store.
"This thing just grows," Bogojevich said of the effort. The group raised about $15,000, which they used to buy food, tools, hygiene products and sleeping materials in one 14-hour shopping trip. Early the next morning, with two donated 16-foot trucks, the group was off to New York.
When they arrived, Bogojevich, a 23-year military veteran, said the situation was "as bad as anything I've seen in other parts of the world." They spent a lot of time at Breezy Point, where residents got hit with fire and water at the same time. Large dumpsters sat full of rotten food, Bogojevich said. Sand had washed in from the ocean, blocking the streets when the water receded. Everything was destroyed.
Bogojevich said he saw a man digging in the spot where his house used to be, but the man refused Bogojevich's help and told him to go find others who needed it more. Bogojevich said many of the area's residents are First Responders and are trained to help others, so they were motivated to be active and not just sit around.
"That's the mentality of the people in that community," Bogojevich said. "The resolve of these people is just phenomenal."
His group slept in sleeping bags in a house that belonged to a relative of a man they met. After they dropped their load of donations off at a church, they spent their days clearing wet insulation from homes, cleaning basements and doing anything else they were told to do by organizers at relief centers, Bogojevich said. The residents they met were touched that they came hundreds of miles to help them put their lives back together.
"The government will do whatever it will, but who you see on the ground are people helping people," Bogojevich said.
When the group returned home about a week later, Bogojevich's wife told him he shouldn't keep taking these trips. You're getting older, she said, "you can't do it anymore." To that, he said, "I can't stop."
Send checks to Gagliardo Realty, 7375 W. North Ave., River Forest, IL 60305, or to St. Luke Housing Ministries, 1500 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago, IL 60657.