December 8, 2013

Customers lend hand in typhoon relief

The owner of Four Corners General Store in West Gardiner still has family members in the region of the Philippines hit hardest by the storm a month ago.

By Paul Koenig pkoenig@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

WEST GARDINER — It’s been a month since Typhoon Haiyan ripped through the Philippines, killing more than 5,000 people and displacing millions.

click image to enlarge

TYPHOON RELIEF: Vicky Staszewski works behind the counter at Four Corners General Store on Thursday in West Gardiner.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

click image to enlarge

Getting help: Vicky Staszewski at Four Corners General Store on Thursday.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

Bodies are still being uncovered in the debris, and the rebuilding of Tacloban, the city hit hardest by the storm, could take at least three years.

At Four Corners General Store in West Gardiner, customers are still asking owner Vicky Staszewski about her family members, about a dozen of whom were in Tacloban when the typhoon hit.

“They’re OK now, but no home,” she said to a customer Saturday who asked how her family was doing.

Staszewski, 63, who moved to Maine from the Philippines in 1969, still has one sister and two brothers in her home country. The brothers, along with 10 nieces and nephews, are living in tents in Tacloban, since their homes were decimated by the typhoon that brought wind speeds nearly topping 200 miles per hour and tsunami-like storm surges.

Staszewski said she followed the news of the storm on TV and is now able to talk to her siblings on the phone. She said sometimes they feel grateful to be alive, but other times they wish they were dead.

“It’s very, very difficult,” Staszewski said. “Their lives are still uncertain.” She added, “It’s so uncomfortable in the tent, but at least they have it. Before, they were just laying in the streets.”

Staszewski said it’s been horrible to see images of the country’s devastation and hear about the living conditions: humid weather exacerbating the smell of the dead bodies in the city, a lack of drinking water and difficulties reaching stations where food is given out.

“Your heart is out there, but there’s really nothing you can do,” she said.

Some of her customers, however, decided they could do something. She said a few regulars at the store called their friends asking them to donate clothes, toiletries and other supplies for Staszewski’s family. Soon, the donations came pouring in: new clothes from L.L. Bean, toothpaste and toothbrushes, sandals and more.

“I’m telling you, my kitchen is full of stuff. I didn’t even ask for help. They just wanted to help,” she said.

Staszewski still can’t mail anything to her brothers in Tacloban because they don’t have addresses anymore, but she’s preparing a large box to send to her sister living in Manila. Her sister will give out what’s extra to neighbors. “It’s good to share,” Staszewski said.

She’s asked people to stop donating clothes and other products. Her kitchen is already packed with donations.

“I’m really grateful to whoever these people are that gave all this stuff,” Staszewski said.

Paul Koenig — 207-621-5663 pkoenig@centralmaine.com Twitter: @paul_koenig
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