I'm not sure what the news outside of NYC is saying. Any day now they'll show the tree being raised in Rockefeller Center and to those watching on TV, NYC is fine. Completely a-okay. But two weeks later, this storm is hardly over. Red Cross and FEMA are the names people know and recognize. I sent my $10 via text, just like everyone else. But that's just not enough. Each day that passed, it became clearer and clearer that things were getting worse not better. No power, heat or hot water in many communities. Complete loss of homes in others. Cold weather and unshakable dampness with mold starting to grow.
Oddly, or perhaps not, Occupy Wall Street stepped in, and maneuvered around, all the red tape that hinders traditional relief efforts. Their Occupy Sandy hub at 520 Clinton is a block from my house.
I pass this church daily, but Friday was the first time I went inside. Hard to imagine but all these supplies were gone by the end of the day. It fills and empties daily. Rinse, repeat. Daily. There's an over abundance of clothes, never enough batteries, toiletries, food or tools. UPS stepped up in a major way, donating trucks to help deliver the Amazon Registry Donations that have been rolling in. (That registry by the way, is genius.) They are harnessing every social media outlet available to meet the exact needs of the those effected - in real time.
Beyond donating money or goods, it can be hard to know just how to volunteer. How will my time and skills be of most use? When I walked in on Friday I didn't care how I was utilized, I just wanted to be put to work as quickly as possible. I ended up in the basement kitchen chopping vegetables from 9 to 4. Carrots, garlic, cauliflower, apples, potatoes. They feed thousands from that church basement. Hot food, sandwiches, apple pie. I feel like food prep and cooking might be slightly overlooked in the grand scheme of volunteering - I guess because people want to see things first hand and interact directly with those that need help. It feels more tangible I guess. But it's really worthwhile and I have to say, the kitchen camaraderie is pretty great.
Saturday Rire joined me. And UPS was back.
We lucked out and managed to get a full tank of gas in under 10 minutes, so we ended up at Driver Dispatch. Ferrying car loads of supplies to Coney Island. We pulled up to the YMCA and in front of us people were lined up outside, waiting to receive a hot meal and basic supplies. Sobering. The atmosphere at 520 Clinton is one of gusto. Things are getting done. Stuff is moving. Things are happening. We got this. At the YMCA it was somber. Wait in line, get your food, walk home to a powerless apartment building before it gets dark. I walked out to the boardwalk to take it all in and collect myself. Looking to volunteer? You could simply help the elderly carry their food and supplies home from distribution sites. Or a parent trying to juggle a baby and bag of supplies up 12 flights of stairs. In the dark.
Our second stop was at the Coney Island Gospel Assembly. More supplies distributed, more feelings of just not being able to do enough, no matter how many supplies you filled your car with. I didn't take photos at either location out of respect for those there. It felt intrusive to those that are living it.
Sunday, we went back to Gospel Assembly with Rire, Chloe and two additional volunteers. People's Relief was coordinating volunteers and we headed to Sea Breezy Avenue tasked with building reports. Rire pointed out that we were standing right where the Brooklyn half marathon course passes. You turn off Ocean Parkway and head towards the boardwalk. I've done that 3 times and I couldn't even recognize the area. Sand. And more sand. Bulldozer required levels of sand.
Walking building to building, checking and noting it's condition. Feeling helpless when occupants asked us where we were from and how we could help them. Knowing that what they needed was power and we couldn't provide that. But we listened, because sometimes that is what's needed. The building themselves (large block apartment buildings) had flooded basements, knocking out the mechanical for who knows how long. The buildings were cold, freezing cold. And dark. We shivered in lobbies, rubbing our arms and stepping back outside, into daylight. A military truck and personal were nearby, trying to figure out what to do next.