Bernie Pacyniak

As various news accounts remind us, the aftereffects of Hurricane Sandy continue. People living in New York City and surrounding communities, particularly areas such as Rockaway Beach, are still digging out, still waiting for power to be restored, still aghast at the devastation this mega storm caused.

This past Monday, 60 Minutes aired a segment on what residents in Belle Harbor, one of the communities located on the Rockaway Peninsula, experienced when Hurricane Sandy hit the town.  The segment dramatically demonstrated the heartbreak and heroism prevalent in that community.

Not only did Sandy wreak havoc with families living on the Rockaway Peninsula, it did its best to shatter dreams, particularly family-run businesses.

Madelaine Chocolate Co., one of the confectionery industry’s most respected companies, was one of the family-run businesses especially hit hard. This morning I had the opportunity to speak to Jorge Farber, president and ceo of the company, to get an update on what happened and where recovery efforts stand.

“The entire area has been devastated,” Farber says. Luckily, there were no casualties to the work force or to the Farber family as a result of Sandy. The plant complex, which includes not only manufacturing but warehousing and administrative offices as well, has been severely impacted by the storm.

Moreover, the storm came at the worst possible time for the company, just when it was in the process of shipping products out for the holiday season.

“We’re just beginning to get electricity back,” Farber says. For ten days, the company was without telephone or e-mail service, making it particularly difficult to get the word out to employees, customers, and vendors. Even cell phone usage was disrupted.

 “During the next couple of weeks we’ll be able to get a better idea of what’s happened to our inventory and equipment,” he says. Farber can’t even fathom the losses yet, but it’s obvious the total will run in the millions.

Throughout this calamity, the response from the confectionery industry “has been overwhelming,” he says. “Friends, customers, vendors, even competitors have reached out, offering their facilities, office space and equipment. We work in the most friendly and caring industry there is.”

Despite the offers of help, Farber recognizes that many customers won’t be getting the Madelaine Chocolate products this holiday season.

“We provide a range of products, some of them unique, to both Mom-and-Pop as well as large retailers,” he explains. As a result, there will be a “vacuum” for many retailers this season because those products won’t be there. Farber wishes it would be otherwise.

“We contacted our customers, brokers and others in the trade,” Farber says. All the company can do now is start the process of rebuilding, which has already begun. Madelaine Chocolate’s 400 employees are being assisted through the state’s emergency unemployment program.

“We’ll come back,” he vows. Anyone who knows Farber doesn’t doubt it. In fact, it’s a given Madelaine Chocolates will come back better than ever. This, nonetheless, will take some time.

On a personal note, Farber and his wife, Vivian, are living with relatives. They are operating a central command post for the company in a temporary office in Manhattan. Their home, which is in Rockaway Beach, is still standing, although a quarter of it will have to be demolished. There’s still no power or heat in the house.

But, as he points out, the neighborhood is resilient, having lost many of its residents (first responders) in the 9/11 tragedy as well as the American Airlines airplane crash just several months later. The National Confectioner s Association created the Rockaway Disaster Relief Fund to help residents of Rockaway Peninsula cope with the aftermath of Sandy. Farber is the executor of the fund.

Our prayers and support are with you, Jorge and Vivian.