Everyday Hero: Mike “Loco” Hoffman of Staten Island

If you were to ask Staten Island native Mike “Loco” Hoffman about his contributions to the ongoing Sandy Relief efforts, he’d tell you he’s just doing his part to help, that he’s nothing special.  But to the thousands of affected residents of New Dorp and Midland, this gentle giant is nothing less than a hero.

mike “loco” hoffman – a man who’s become a hero to many

I met Mike a couple weeks ago while I was downstate volunteering as a Sandy relief worker.  Here was this big imposing tough guy, smiling and giving hugs as he orchestrated volunteers and comforted storm survivors.   What really impressed me was the way he went about things.  Mike saw to it that everything was prioritized based on need and circumstance; a family with a seriously ill child would be higher on the list for generator access than a house of healthy young adults.    Working tirelessly since the superstorm came ashore, he’s a relief leader and morale coach for some of the island’s hardest hit neighborhoods.  Corralling labor volunteers, running area shelters, repairing homes, delivering supplies… Mike Hoffman ensures that no need – no matter how great or how small – goes unmet on his watch.

It’s Just Who He Is:

Known as “Loco” to his friends, Hoffman first made a name for himself as a high school football star at both Port Richmond and Curtis.  Destined for collegiate D-1 greatness, Mike’s dreams were cut short when his mother was diagnosed with brain cancer.  Choosing to care for her while placing his own ambition on hold wasn’t a choice for Mike, it was an instinct. Putting the needs of others far before his own is just who he is.

On the surface he seems like a normal guy: he and wife Amaury have been happily married for more than a decade, they have four beautiful children.  “Coach Hoffman,” as he’s known to many, has volunteered for the last seven years with Staten Island youth football and baseball teams.

But normal as we know it is long gone in the post-Sandy world of Staten Island.  Putting down a team roster and picking up a volunteer contact sheet, Mike does what he’s best at: stepping up to the plate to help those around him.

 

mike “loco” hoffman – doing a lot of heavy lifting, physically and emotionally, to help those around him

 

Rolling Up His Sleeves

Every single day he’s out there working hard.  Digging out homes in areas where flood waters reached heights of twelve feet, delivering donated generators to families in need, demo, ripouts, cleaning up the mud and muck left behind from the storm surge, collecting and distributing donated supplies – if it needs to be done, he’ll pitch in and make it happen.  He’s even gotten his whole family involved.  All of his kids have been out to volunteer with him, even his youngest, who made a huge impact on Midland residents. He’s been on the news and in the streets educating others of the many abounding risks, including: electrocution hazards, structurally unsound homes, debris and dust inhalation, infectious illness from unsanitary conditions, growing mold in waterlogged buildings, hypothermia, muscle-strain, violent looters, and even the ever-increasing issue of disaster-scams.

I so admire the work Mike has been doing, I wanted to get involved in any way I could.  Before I left Staten Island on my last day there, I made him an offer:  “when I get back home and I have Internet access, power, a fully charged cell phone – I’ll help you in anyway I can. ”

I’ve been back in Western New York for just over a week, and I’ve kept good on my promise.  (Little did I know what I was getting into!).   He jokingly calls me his PR-rep, but really I’m like his secretary or an assistant.  We’ve become a little team: he’s boots on the ground, and I’m the desk jockey.   As Mike does labor, canvasses neighborhoods, distributes supplies, I do the office work of calling elected officials, posting online requests for volunteers, tracking down people who can help, and so on.  I’m so happy to pitch in any way I can, and if my end of things makes Mike more effective – that’s a win for all of us.

loco, organizing volunteers and assigning work that needs to be done

 

 

In His Own Words:

This evening, I asked Mike what the biggest need is now:

“As of now, the biggest need is getting the word out.  It’s not a hot topic anymore, people have gotten tired of hearing about it.  The news coverage has dropped off and people are already forgetting about us, they’ve moved on.  Everyone came out and pitched in for a week or two – and while that was great, this thing is far from over for us.  We need volunteers, we need donations, we need help!  And this goes for people here too, if your house got worked on, go help your neighbors out.  There’s still so much work to do, we all need to rally now and keep going.”

 

Reflecting on how people are coping:

“A lot of people didn’t know what their neighbors’ names were before this thing happened, and now they’re checking in on each other.  I’ve heard plenty of stories about that, people didn’t even know who lived across the street, and now they’re checking in with one another all the time – ‘Hey Mr. Jenkins, I’m going down to get some hot food.  Do you need anything?’ – they’re working together now, we’re all in this thing together.”

 

Why he does what he does:

“When the landlord calls me, I’m disheartened.  When I see the bills piling up, it’s discouraging.  But then,  I look around and I’m motivated.   I won’t let my personal problems get in the way of what my heart is telling me to do.”

“I just want to lead by example.  My kids look up to me, I’m their role model, and I know they’re going to grow up to be good people – and that’s all I need.  All of my kids have been out there and pitched in, and that means so much to me.  My little nine year old came out and he was a saint – I was worried about his little lungs, so I had him all decked out in the mask and everything – and he was just a firecracker he had so much energy.  He was asking people what they needed, and he was so excited to get it.  He swept the whole street, it was amazing.  It made me feel good as a father.  And then when he wrote that message on the generator it just broke me down, I got emotional.”

the sweet message loco’s youngest son wrote on a generator: we are there for you! Johnny5 son of Mike Hoffman, a help for our nation.

 

Get Involved! 

If you want to get to know Mike for yourself, and keep up with all the great work he does, check him out on Facebook (Mike Loco Hoffman) and Twitter (@TheMikeLoco).   You can also contact him directly: 917.548.0523 or mikeloco@msn.com to see what his needs are on any given day.  Right now volunteers, specifically for labor, tools, and any supplies/gear that can help out labor crews are in big demand.  Hard hats, goggles, work gloves, dust masks, sledge hammers, axes, shovels, wheelbarrows, crowbars, pry bars – any of those items would be a huge help.

Acquiring tools is really very hard and hanging on to them seems to be even harder.  They’re expensive to pay for, so it takes a lot of money to get just a few things.  Luckily, donations of great tools have come in and Mike’s been able to get access to some.  They just don’t seem to last long, though.  Of course, many items are one-use only or get worn out quickly.  As far as the big and pricey tools, they’re constantly getting stolen.  Mike hasn’t been able to transport them all to his home every night where he can safeguard them – so this has been an ongoing problem.

Some donations have been rounded up, and we’ve been able to rent a truck for Mike!  It’s a U-Haul type truck that he can safely store the tools in and keep locked.  As of now, there were enough donations to cover the cost of the truck for a week.   We’re looking for help keeping it rented – or funding of some kind of storage container that securely locks.

Even if you just wish Mike well and give him some positivity and encouragement – that would be great!

As always, I want to thank you for reading!  I know it’s been a lot of Sandy talk lately, and that for some people hearing about the topic so much is tiresome.  For far too many people there is no escaping this topic though – they’re living it.  And it’s for them that I keep talking about it, and it’s for them that I ask you keep listening, reading, and spreading the word.  The more we all pitch in, the faster affected people can get their lives back in order.

 

XOXO, HHR

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ears to heart, heart back to ears. repeat.

One evening not so long ago I was listening to “This American Life” while jogging.  At the end of my hour-long run, the podcast was ending as I was super close to home, and the closing song came on…

“if the kids .. are united .. they will never .. be divided!”

The punk rock song (by Sham 69) went from the ear buds past my hearing faculties and just straight to my heart.  My legs started pumping, sprinting me up the hill, my brain took me through this super vivid flashback- thinking of being a young sweaty middle schooler, at a 7 Seconds show with some friends.  7 Seconds played their cover of If The Kids Are United, and I remember feeling so empowered.

I was a kid.  We were united.  I thought we could take on the universe.  My fists were pumping (and not in the Jersey Shore kinda way), and I just felt that the couple hundred of us huddled into some crappy Daytona dive venue, we could change the world.

random mosh pit pic i found on a google image search

Back in 2012 my jog wrapped up, the song was over and I got to thinking: my heart and hearing connection has always been a close one when it comes to music.

Some of my earliest memories are of my dad’s mix tapes.  My dad’s a total mix tape genius, oh man.  I grew up in this world of themed tapes for every mood.  Bruce Springstein by the pool, Wham! when we’re kicking off a road trip.

As I got older he introduced me to his most precious gems: The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkle. Concert soundtracks for Woodstock, No Nukes; all these amazing 70’s artists.  We’d drive around, because listening to music is best done in the car, and he’d explain the feelings each song brought to him.

me and my dad, a couple years ago

I best understand my father’s pain and sadness during my parents’ divorce via “Only Living Boy In New York.”

I have to compose myself here, literally, tearfully wincing as I’m writing.  It’s that emotional for me.

For every event there is a song.  A life-long soundtrack that encompasses all genres, envelopes all emotions.

From my ears, to my heart – music goes. 

When I started to find my own music: Sublime, Alanis Morissette, NOFX, Blink-182 – they spoke to me too.  I would sit in my room, “doing homework,” just listening to my CDs on repeat.  93KRO was the alt rock station that existed when I was in middle school in Daytona Beach – I’d listen nonstop, letting them teach me about the Cranberries, Poe, the Toadies, etc.  I remember getting ready for school every morning to “Dude Ranch,” putting my blue mascara on.  Yeah!

seventeen year old me

And high school? College?  Oh man.  As punk gave way to emo, I went in head over heels.  I was a chest-pounding misty-eyed emo dreamster, speaking to my closest friends strictly in song lyrics.  Seriously, we’d communicate in lyrics.  Some of us still can do it.  Crying at the Dashboard concert kinda stuff.  Sprinkled in with some pothead memories, a lot of Dispatch and Ben Harper, of course.

my friend in green and in white = me, gettin funky at a dmb concert years and years ago

So as 28-year-old me is uphill jogging and I’m reflecting on this ear-to-heart beeline, I ponder: does it go both ways? 

For any of y’all not in the loop: I currently suffer from a condition my doctors call “peripheral neuralgia,” or “atypical facial pain.”  For the past 12 months my right ear has been hurting so badly.  The pain radiates from my ear, to my cheekbone, forehead, jaw … and it’s so debilitating that I can’t even think.  I’ve been on a whole mess of meds, treatment attempt after treatment attempt has failed, and it sucks.  I just want my ear to stop hurting.  The meds I’m on hold me for the time being, with a limited amount of breakthrough pain, but they aren’t a cure.  I can’t conceive while on these meds, they have side effects that I don’t like.

total fail - didn't work.

icing my neck on a day my ear was hurting real bad!

I feel broken.  It’s infuriating, depressing, frustrating, and sad that we (my amazing team of doctors and I) can’t get to the bottom of this.  I’ve had better success with two kinds of cancer.

My ear hurts every day.   Just the right ear.

And well, the little things hurt.  When a baby cries, when a mic reverbs, a whistle, a horn, my neighbor’s super loud and obnoxious bass – all of these sounds and noises, they HURT me.  Physically.  I hate it.  I have to wear an ear plug in my right ear a lot of the time.  I always have to wear it at church, it’s way too loud in there.

The ear pain started last January (2011), in the aftermath of the miscarriage I had. The stress of the miscarriage did a lot of damage to my body in general (the grotesquely mismanaged miscarriage, during which I bled heavily for 15 days, for a total of 30 when all was said and done).  I have a genetic blood disease, porphyria, and stressors take a harder hit on me than they do your average young and healthy person.

But maybe there’s a more simple answer: that heart-to-ear expressway.

Losing that baby was so sad.

Sad is such a lacking word.

I wanted to be a mother.  I was so happy to be pregnant.  I was so excited to have a baby.  Overjoyed, blissful, grateful, peppy.  It was the best I’ve ever felt in my life.  And then… it was taken away from me, in a rather undignified way, a drawn-out, painful, way.

I’ve experienced sadness and loss in my life – of course, who hasn’t? – and I can honestly say the greatest heartache I’ve ever suffered was losing that baby.

And it surprised me with how terribly sad it was.  I had no idea that a miscarriage was that hard to go through.

From my heart, back to my ears, so the connection goes? 

The idea is intriguing.

I mean, there are other things that I know to be true – I have musculo/skeletal damage on my right side, in the nerve path of my ear/face.  I have nerve damage. This isn’t the first time I’ve had this one-sided ear ache, it’s just the only time it hasn’t gone away after a week or so.

As far as mending my heart, I think I’ve come a long way.  I was never angry about the miscarriage, no one is to blame.   I was always just sad.

If anything, the event was part of a path the reignited my faith and brought me even closer to God.  It brought Duggs and I closer together.  I’ve been to therapists of all kinds – regular, neuro-psych, pain psych, etc., and they all say I’m doing okay, that I’m happy and well adjusted, doing the best I could be doing, given the circumstance.   In the past year, I’ve emotionally come a long way.

A great deal of heart healing has gone on. 

So am I just waiting for the ear to catch up?

In an effort to tackle the problem from the other side, I’ve jumped back into music with a new-found passion.  I don’t spend that much time in the car these days, and I’ve gotten kinda addicted to TV, so re-immersing in my jams has felt good.  I totally have Spotify to thank, I’m so obsessed.  And running; running again gives me reason to rock out.

cake will be here in hawaii later this month - i think i should go on therapeutic grounds!

So this inner express lane from my ears to my heart, it feels roundtrip.  Maybe the way to cure my facial pain isn’t through Lyrica, but lyrics? Ha. Do you like what I did there? Lyrica is one of my meds.  That’s funny.

If anything, perhaps soaking myself in my most favorite of tunes will be a way to help me feel better in general and/or distract me from the pain?  Maybe my heart has more healing to do than I’ve realized?

The connection feels real to me though: ears to heart, and back again.

….

As always, thanks for reading!!  Love, happy hippie rose