At Occupy Sandy’s HQ, as the next storm hits NYC

7 Nov

This week, wanting to volunteer again after hearing that so many areas are still devastated by the hurricane, I stumbled upon Occupy Sandy  – an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street – and from what I can see, one of NYC’s only real central hubs for coordinated volunteering and donations post-Hurricane Sandy.

Don’t ask me where the Red Cross are, or any government relief organisations – everyone seems to be wondering! On the subject of which, I tried to sign up to volunteer on the Red Cross website, and received a phone call back from them a few days later, saying my help wasn’t needed! For shame.

I have been down at Occupy Sandy’s hub at St. Jacobi Church in Sunset Park , Brooklyn for the last three days, and it’s a really impressive well-coordinated, grassroots operation, fully run by volunteers. Occupy is organising the intake of donations, and dispatch of much-needed supplies and manpower to neighbourhoods still in dire straits post-Sandy (the Rockaways in Queens, many parts of Staten Island, Coney Island and Red Hook in Brooklyn, among others).

Occupy is also cooking thousands of hot meals and preparing unlimited sandwiches every day to be taken out to residents in these areas who still have zero heat/light/water.

No volunteer is turned away, and most get put to work immediately on arriving at Jacobi, following a brief orientation – whether they are sent out to affected areas to canvas door-to-door finding out residents’ needs or delivering supplies, working at Jacobi accepting and organising donations coming in or preparing supplies to go out, working in the kitchen preparing food, or working in the offices answering calls and sending out dispatches. It’s really impressive.

On my first day there, I got placed in the kitchen where I soon got stuck into the PB&J sandwich assembly line, which went on and on and on all afternoon. (What’s PB&J, you non-Americans may ask? None other than that quintessentially American of sandwich fillers- the humble Peanut Butter and Jelly!) —-

Yesterday, armed with my laptop, I worked my way up the ‘pecking order’ (although, of course, this being very grassroots, everyone is equal), and was set to work in the dispatches office. Here, I had to answer calls coming into the Occupy helpline (just a simple Google Voice set-up) from people out in the affected areas who gave us their supplies and volunteer requests. This information we then enter into a Google database, and then issue a ‘dispatch note’ with all relevant details, which ‘runners’ deliver to workers down in the supplies /donations zone, who, in turn, put together the order, and then ensure it gets sent out promptly to the right place. Here is the dispatches office:

And here is the supplies zone, with donations coming in the whole time:

As for today, I started working in the dispatches office again this morning, but as there has been a severe storm warning for today – a “nor’easter” winter storm this time, not a hurricane – things were slower as Occupy was not able to deliver to some of the areas due to new evacuation orders. Crazy stuff.

So I ended up back in the kitchen with a bunch of nice guys peeling and chopping endless quantities of carrots, onions, potatoes…

Just a small section of the amazing amounts of donated food in the kitchen:

And then it was back home, across the whole city, just in time – the SNOW, sleet and rain started coming down just as I left Brooklyn, and by the time I got out of the subway tunnel in the Bronx, it was really pelting down strong…

I can’t help thinking about all those poor residents in the storm-devastated areas who are now having to deal with these new extreme weather conditions on top of everything they’ve already dealt  with this last week.

Any time spare? Any donations? Go down and help at Occupy Sandy – you are really needed.

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