The Rockaway Vollies


Rockaway Rotary Keeps Rockaway on Dial


The Rockaway Vollies is a special series by The Rockaway Times highlighting the amazing local nonprofit organizations and volunteers who freely give of their time and resources to help their neighbors, not just locally, but beyond.

“Service Above Self” is the motto Rotarians across the globe live by and a special group of people that make up the Rockaway Rotary have been following it since the local group started in 1947. With only about a dozen members, their group may be small and their actions are carried out without pomp and circumstance, but the Rockaway Rotary makes big impacts.

The Rockaway Rotary is an extension on Rotary International, which started with the first Rotary Club in Chicago in 1905. The international group has a mission to promote peace, fight disease, especially polio, provide clean water, sanitation and hygiene, help mothers and children, support education and local economy, and follow the core values of service, fellowship, diversity, integrity, and leadership. The main mission of the 35,000 clubs across the country is to help others, which the Rockaway Rotary has mastered through food drives, fundraisers, and giving back to the community.

The Rockaway Rotary kicks off their fundraising for the year with the annual Rockaway Rotary Ocean Run/Walk. The annual event, sponsored by Sweet n’ Low and held in memory of Barbara Eisenstadt, will celebrate its 40th year in 2018. This big community event, featuring a 5K and a children’s run, is held around the last weekend of April or the first weekend of May and serves as a fundraiser. Later in the year, they host a Century Club Dinner to raise money. This year’s dinner will be at Vetro in Howard Beach in December. With the money raised, the Rotarians are able to help local groups like the Graybeards, Rockaway WISH, swimming programs, garden clubs maintenance of Memorial Circle and veterans groups.

Each year, the Rockaway Rotary holds two food drives. “We hold a food drive at the beginning of August up at Breezy Point. The reason we do it at that time of the year is because most children who go to summer programs are about to end their program and the kids are home before school starts. Not every parent can provide for every child when they’re home. At school, many are provided with meals. So we collect during this time to stock food pantries to help parents feed their families in this in-between time,” Rotarian Maureen Walsh said.  The other food drive occurs right before Thanksgiving. This year, the food drive will be held from 8 a.m to 12 p.m. on November 18 in front of the Rockaway Park Stop & Shop (the old Waldbaums.)

Veterans are also a big priority on the Rockaway Rotary’s list, especially for President John Napolitano. “On the last Saturday of the month, we go to St. Alban’s Hospital for Veterans and bring them clothes, shoes, blankets and whatever they need. A lot of these guys are Vietnam vets. I’m old enough to remember how those guys were treated when they got back and it wasn’t very nice, so we do anything we can do to help them. We do whatever we can to thank them, and even then, it’s not enough,” Napolitano said.

Being a part of an international organization, the Rotarians also help other clubs in times of need. The Rockaway Rotary especially realized this following Hurricane Sandy. “The Rotary was instrumental after Sandy,” local member Nancy Hanson said. “Within five days, we have people come from a club in Pennsylvania with three personal cars filled with 10 generators and $350 worth of gift cards, which we were able to give to neighbors in need. From New Jersey, we had two trucks of cleaning supplies. New Jersey itself was affected by the storm, but when they heard Rockaway was affected, they came to help us as well. From Vermont, we had Rotarians bring $1,000 in gift cards to distribute to families. A Rotary club from upstate came down over the course of two weeks, with truckloads of furniture and TVs to be distributed. Even the club in Howard Beach came to give us outlets for those who needed to replace them. Then we had individuals from clubs all over to help us distribute things,” Hanson said. “The most important thing the Rotary wants to do is make sure its getting to the grassroots, and that means individuals, not institutions. We want to make sure that we’re brining things into the hands of the people that need it.”

Now the Rockaway Rotary is looking to pay it forward. “We’re waiting to donate money to those affect by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. With Sandy, we learned that you can’t just go running out there with things. We’re waiting to see what people need and then we’re going to donate money and supplies as part of a district-wide effort,” Walsh said. “We remember the help we got after Sandy, so we’re trying to pay it back,” Napolitano said.

The Rotarians aren’t paid for their actions, but many find great reward in being a member. “I felt it was important to give back whenever I can because I’ve been given a lot. My lifestyle and business afforded me the opportunity to have free time and I wanted to share my knowledge and business experience with others. I first heard about the Rotary when I was a little girl upstate. The motto, “Service Above Self” resonated with me. So when former president, the late John Kimball asked if I’d like to join, I excitedly said yes,” Hanson said.

“Being in the Rotary has been a wonderful experience. I’ve met a lot of really nice people and we do a lot of good in the community that’s kind of under the radar,” Walsh said.

“I enjoying knowing that I’m doing something and helping somebody. I’m with like-minded people who want to help the community. It’s not about an arm looking to take. We’re looking to give and there’s satisfaction in knowing that I did what I could to help someone,” Napolitano said.

The Rockaway Rotary is looking to expand its membership. The Rotarians meet every Wednesday at noon for lunch at the Bungalow Bar. Anyone who is interested in joining or learning more about the group, is welcome to attend a meeting. It is open to all ages and backgrounds.

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