There are good people in the world and some not so good people, but upon meeting the Epifanio family in Belle Harbor, you understand that there are just some down right phenomenal people.
Jim Epifanio left his job as a transmission mechanic in the Bronx over 12 months ago to care for his 92 year old father, Joe. A war veteran and ex New York City Police man. He required 24 hr care. Jim's mother, Mary lives with them also. Joe passed away just three weeks ago. Jim's wife, Denise teaches special needs children, but due to New York City Public School cut backs, she no longer has work. However, Denise' mother, Anna, lives with them also. Anna had a stroke three years ago and suffers from dementia and alzheimer's. Anna also needs 24hr care.
The light of the family is their 17year old son Ryan, who was born with Cerebral Palsy. Although he cannot walk or communicate with words, Ryan's gentle and happy demeanor is what holds this entire family together. Ryan also needs constant care.
During Hurricane Sandy, the Epifanio family watched the water swallow up their basement apartment, where Jim used to sleep. Situated on Beach 121st St, Denise recalls being terrified, seeing the fires from the burning homes on Beach 130th st to her left and the flames engulfing an entire block on Rockaway Beach Blvd to her right. After watching the water rise and losing all power, Jim remembers making tough decisions on how to get the family out of the house across the flood waters and the hierarchy of who needed to be saved first. Imagine having to make that decision.
The water finally stopped upon reaching their front step and luckily there was no need to swim out. However, the family had lost both their cars, their downstairs apartment, a wheelchair lift for Ryan to get in and out of the house and the other lift for the car and all power to run medical equipment for Joe. The fuel shortage for over a week also made it almost impossible to run their generator.
Fortunately, in the following weeks, Joe and Mary were moved to an aged care facility in Brooklyn until the power returned and a team of incredible volunteers built a new wheelchair ramp for Ryan and helped gut out the basement apartment and garage.
Three months on and all back under the same roof, (except for old Joe, RIP.) Jim and Denise are putting their lives back together. Jim is rebuilding the basement apartment. They just bought a new car. Ryan is back at school. Denise is looking to go back to work during the day and Jim is looking for local night shift work so that there is always one of them in the house to care for the family.
"When do you sleep?" I asked Jim. "When we can," he replied.
I could continue on for pages and pages about how this family survives and works through all their adversities. However, what strikes me most is their positive attitude. The Epifanio's are a beautiful family. Loving, cheerful and incredibly welcoming. They even host a wounded soldier in their home for a week during the annual Rockaway Wounded Warrior event. We can all learn something from their strength and openness. I am a better person for having met them.