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Mets' community efforts feel more personal

NEW YORK -- Two weeks after Hurricane Sandy struck New York City and its surrounding areas, most businesses along Mermaid Ave. in Brooklyn's Coney Island neighborhood remained shuttered. Much of the activity on the avenue centered around Our Lady of Solace church, which had morphed into a restoration center for victims.

There, Mets pitcher Johan Santana and chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon dropped by to help distribute supplies, while the Mets Foundation and the Johan Santana Foundation combined to donate $25,000 to, a relief and recovery effort helping local residents and businesses deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

"I know everyone is starting to recover, but the destruction here on Coney Island has been severe," said Steve Cohen, CEO of the Mets' Class A Coney Island Cyclones franchise, which endured stadium damage during the storm. "People still need hope."

A day later, pitchers Dillon Gee and Bobby Parnell showed up to Citi Field to help the City Harvest food rescue organization collect donations, then traveled to the devastated neighborhood of Breezy Point in Queens to hand out brooms, shovels and bottled water. Six days after that, Matt Harvey drove to Far Rockaway in Queens to serve meals with the non-profit organization Rock and Wrap It Up!

"It's a chance for us to give back to the people that have given to us for the last few years," Parnell said.

"Even though I'm not from New York and I'm not living in New York right now ... we are New Yorkers half the year," Gee said. "I feel for these guys. I can't imagine what they've had to go through. Just to be able to come here and help out feels pretty good."

More than three weeks after the storm, Thanksgiving has arrived, bringing with it a new perspective on the Mets' contributions. Every year the team participates in numerous charitable efforts around the city, giving time and money to causes ranging from war veterans to cancer research to needy children.

But rarely has it been so personal. Many of the most-affected neighborhoods from Hurricane Sandy sit mere miles from Citi Field, which was used as a staging area for disaster relief. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the city's Office of Emergency Management (OEM) used the ballpark's facilities and parking lots in their efforts to restore electricity, remove debris and provide emergency services to New Yorkers.

In all, more than a half dozen federal, state and local agencies were on site both inside and outside Citi Field, including FEMA, Con Edison and the New York National Guard.

"It's been emotional," Santana said. "Just to see people still struggling is tough. But at the same time, to see how everything has been handled, all the help they have received, is always good. I'm happy to be a part of it."

Santana lives in Florida most of the year and in his native Venezuela for a portion of the winter. The rest of the Mets are scattered from Connecticut to California to Panama, and many points between. But as Gee mentioned, they all live in the tri-state area for at least six months out of the year, giving them the types of connections to the community that any resident might have. And that does not even begin to consider the scores of Mets employees who live in the region year-round, many of whom were affected by the storm in some way.

So, dressed in a bright orange windbreaker on a dreary Coney Island day earlier this month, Santana was giving back to his own community as much as to that of his fans. Distributing food donations around Queens, Gee and Parnell and Harvey were pitching in for their neighbors.

Like so many Mets players and employees in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, they were simply doing what they could to help.

New York Mets