Tag Archives: hurricane sandy

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.

Hurricane Sandy – a city of ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’

3 Nov

Yesterday (Friday), I managed to do some more volunteer work in lower Manhattan.

This time it was to help with JASA, an organisation which, among many other activities, runs sheltered homes for low-income elderly and vulnerable people. I went to their residence in the East Village, armed with some flashlights and basic foodstuffs.

The place was dark, cold and felt like it was in shut-down, with no lifts working.

The aim was to distribute food and water to residents who have been without power or running water for nearly four days already. Some had aides who were able to come downstairs to pick up the supplies for them, but others (some with limited mobility) were stranded many floors up and were relying on volunteers or staff to bring basic supplies to them.

I went up to take supplies to some of the residents on the lower floors. It felt like I was anywhere but Manhattan, the centre of the ‘developed world’ when I saw a staff member giving out water via a hose-pipe to residents lining up with buckets so they could flush their toilets!

JASA was also trying to pick up blankets from local hotels, as with the brisk chilly New York autumn now in full swing, the residence was feeling pretty glacial without any central heating.

The one piece of good news was that residents I met told me that they had received messages that Con Edison (the power company) was planning on restoring electricity by tonight (Saturday), 11pm. So I REALLY hope that they will be back on the grid tonight and no later!

Then it was back home. I had to walk back up to Penn Station, about a half-hour walk, as the subway doesn’t work below there due to the power outages.

It was very strange to observe how Manhattan became literally a tale of two cities because of Sandy – with the haves living above around 34th St, and the have-nots living below.

Under the demarcation line, everything felt dead – all the shops shuttered, no traffic lights working, subway stations closed, and everything felt asleep and quite eerie. And then suddenly you’re over the line, and there’s activity, light, power, noise and all the usual Manhattan buzz.

Here are a couple of pics showing life in the have-nots’ part of town:

Free cell-phone charging in the street for residents without power:

Near Union Square, some store-owners were asking passers-by to ‘write a note to Sandy’ on post-it notes, then sticking the notes up in their shop window! (I like one about the in-laws ):

Particularly like the one about the Bronx:

In other developments:

– There has been zero post in our mailbox all week – has the US postal service closed down?!

-The public library is operating on a VERY limited capacity – twice – yesterday , and the day before – I went to try and get some books, and both times, I was not allowed to take any out! Apparently the library computer system is totally down, so you can’t even check out books.

How Hurricane Sandy affected my little world

1 Nov

Yesterday, we went down with other volunteers to help distribute water, candles and torches (flashlights) to residents in apartment buildings in the Lower East Side who have lost all water supply, electricity and heating.  Residents we met told us that the latest reports are that it might be up to ten days until they get water and power back! It was quite grim in the apartment buildings – obviously no lifts are working, so we had to go up pitch-black stairwells to reach the residents (flashlights were a life-saver).

One elderly man gave me a huge hug when I gave him a new flashlight and batteries – he was so grateful.

But delivering a few meagre bottles of drinking water and candles is obviously not enough to help these people – even though they all seemed very grateful (in fact, they told us that we were the first organisation who had come round to give them any assistance). It was especially worrying to see elderly people in this predicament.

For general water supplies, we met other residents who had gone down to the street and were filling up buckets at fire hydrants. Some would have to haul these buckets up ten or more flights of stairs to reach their apartments.

It really feels like Manhattan is a war-zone –  especially anywhere below 42nd St, as the power has gone in the whole lower part of the city, so we were driving through deserted streets with closed up shops – and no traffic lights working whatsoever —

Totally deserted streets in Tribeca area:

We also drove past the now infamous building in Chelsea, the facade of which was literally ripped off during Sandy’s passage through the city:

As for back up here in Riverdale, in the northern Bronx where we live, we are lucky to have power, but it was a nonetheless a bit shocking to walk the leafy streets near where we live the day after Sandy barrelled through the neighbourhood, uprooting huge trees in its path:

A power line and two trees come down right onto someone’s house:

Huge tree uprooted:

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