AFSCME Members Collect Toys for Children Who Lost Everything to Tropical Storm Lee

by Jon Melegrito  |  September 28, 2011

Photo: Ken Fortier and his co-workers have been working long hours to clean up Johnson City’s neighborhoods following massive flooding caused by Hurricane Irene.
Ken Fortier and his co-workers have been working long hours to clean up Johnson City’s neighborhoods following massive flooding caused by Tropical Storm Lee. (Photo courtesy Local 3718)

It was the children’s destroyed toys that finally broke Ken Fortier’s heart.

Fortier knows the devastation caused by strong winds, heavy rains and massive flooding. A refuse driver with the Johnson City Department of Public Works in New York state for 15 years, he also knows it’s his job to immediately clean up after a storm and ensure that the public is safe from road hazards, contaminated belongings and mounting wastes.

The trail of destruction left by Tropical Storm Lee last month “was worse than anything I’ve seen” though, says Fortier, president of Local 3718 (Council 66).

“But what really broke my heart,” he adds, “is the sight of damaged toys among the piles of garbage. I’m certain many of these toys came to these kids gift-wrapped as Christmas or birthday presents, bringing them countless hours of joy and delight. And now they have nothing.”

Along with a 10-man crew and street department, Fortier has been putting in 12-hour days the last three weeks, making three to four sweeps through flood-ravaged neighborhoods in upstate New York, picking up water-logged trash piled on sidewalks and loading about 2,000 tons into garbage trucks. And each time, Fortier says, he was saddened by the thought of people who lost their homes and cherished possessions. Twenty-five percent of Johnson City was under six to seven feet of water for two days.

Coming home on the second night, the 57-year-old father shared how he felt with his family. His two teen-age sons readily offered to share some of their own toys.

“That’s when I got the idea of starting a toy drive,” says Fortier, who is also a volunteer fireman. “Soon as word got out that our local was sponsoring it, the response has been overwhelming.”

According to child specialists, trying to return to normal after a flood, tornado or other disaster can be difficult for children because the effects can last for weeks or months.  The loss of toys and treasured possessions is among the causes of stress.  Fortier hopes that replacing their toys will help them cope and “put a smile on their faces.”

Fortier plans to raffle off a $100 gift card donation with the goal of raising $5,000 by Dec. 1. With the money raised, the local will purchase toys and distribute it to the children in time for Christmas. Donations of toys, books and games are being collected at the Local’s office, 432 South Jensen Road, Vestal, New York 13850.

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