Youth help guide Sandy relief effort in Queens

(CBS News) ROCKAWAY, Queens -- We've seen the agony caused by a storm named Sandy -- Homes destroyed; Families left in the dark; Fistfights on gas lines -- but there are always stories about our better nature.

Shalaka Cox has been navigating darkened hallways and staircases in Rockaway, Queens, for three days.

The 17-year-old is handing out food, water and flashlights to people stranded in their apartments.

"There's times when it might be overwhelming but then I think about what we're actually doing. I think in the last few days we've been able to reach over 500 families, so knowing that keeps me going," Cox said.

Cox is a foot soldier in a relief force recruited by 23-year-old Milan Taylor.

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"It's time for us to step up and prove we are willing and able to step up," Taylor said.

The college student directs the effort from his smartphone.

"We put out a call on Facebook, and the supplies and the food just started to come pouring in," Taylor said.

He's enlisted more than 100 teens and twenty-somethings to help their neighbors.

If he wasn't helping Sandy victims, Taylor said he "would be in school right now."

At the core of his band of volunteers is the community group he founded a year and a half ago to mentor kids. He's spent the group's last $500 to buy diapers and blankets.

"There is no community leadership guiding FEMA, guiding the Red Cross, because they're not from this community, so they don't know where the needs are," Taylor said.

In less than a week, they've figured out how to distribute two days' worth of supplies to three apartment houses.

FEMA has set up a distribution trailer less than three miles away, but it might as well be a thousand for the elderly who live here.

"They're saying honestly that they wouldn't know what they would do without us," Taylor said. "There needs to be a little bit more faith put in young people and our capabilities and what we are able to do."

While many in Rockaway are without power, they've discovered they're not powerless.

  • Michelle Miller

    Michelle Miller is an award-winning CBS News correspondent based in New York, reporting for all CBS News broadcasts and platforms. Her work regularly appears on the "CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley", "CBS This Morning" and "CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood". She joined CBS News in 2004.

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