“Going from the head to the heart are the toughest 18 inches to travel. That which comes from the head goes over the head, what comes from the heart goes right to the heart.” - Activist and Actress, Ashley Judd
I work two parallel tracks in my life: journalist and activist. Sometimes, and unapologetically, they go together, especially in my work of service with Out Impact. Ashley’s words are true in my life and in my work, and I’m going to do my best to keep my words limited, and let the photos speak for themselves. I have been through “many a hurricane” growing up in Wilmington, NC, a hot spot for hurricanes over the years. I moved to Brooklyn, New York last year, and never expected I’d experience not one, but two hurricanes here. Like many of my contemporaries, we thought a category 1 couldn’t do what Hurricane Sandy did.
Hearts are broken, homes are gone for many or badly damaged.
No power still, a week later, in much of New York City (and surrounding boroughs) and New Jersey. I have friends on the Jersey Shore who have not been allowed back yet and are unsure if they have a home to return to.
People are cold, and the weather is not cutting us a break right now. This week will be the coldest yet.
People are coming together. I met up with friends from Facebook, and we met up for community to discuss what we’re seeing on the news. We were in spared neighborhoods in Fort Greene and Park Slope. We then went shopping for supplies for as much as we could afford. Luckily, one of our friends had a vehicle and we switched plans and made the drive to Coney Island to see what we could do in an area not as easy to get to for most people without vehicles. We all seemed surprised at how fast it was to actually get there.
Once we got there, it was like being in a new reality. Beach sand on the streets. Street lights out because of no power, so driving is really at your own risk. People walking around with shopping carts, bundled in whatever they could bundle in to stay warm as temperatures dropped and the winds picked up again. We found the FEMA Center, in a normal situation, the MCU Park parking lot. You couldn’t miss it with tents to shelter supplies, and the increased police presence and FEMA officials.
No signs of the American Red Cross, no signs of news crews. The first two things I looked for when we got there. So how do we get news out when you don’t see major organizations? Social media, local news, small organizations, willing to donate their news wires to spread the news, word of mouth….street posts signs like this in Park Slope:
After some quizzing by police officers to what we had, they let us unpack our supplies (cleaning supplies, blankets, food, candles, utensils, water, tissues, and other misc. supplies), within minutes, everything we gave was dispersed.
The last thing anyone in their lifetime would want to see is a FEMA distribution center, much less have to NEED one. No one last week dreamed this would be happening here in New York and our neighboring friends in New Jersey, Pennsylvania New Hampshire, Delaware and elsewhere in the Northeast. After being told they need us volunteering right now to deploy anything, we through other friends, found a nearby headquarter of food, supplies and volunteers in housing development areas. I have no idea who was in charge of it but it was well-organized all things considering, packed full of stuff, volunteers and people in need. Volunteers of all ages, but a lot of young people college age and up and a lot of women, from all over the boroughs.
We helped unloaded a truck with a lot of supplies and waited for our assignment. Shortly after, we teamed up with five others to go up to a nearby housing development in Luna Park to disperse supplies, food and water. My friends and I personally went up 12 stories in the darkened stairwells of this housing development. The stairs were narrow and it was hard to see, with not a lot of light, even daylight. I myself actually bruised my right knee at one point because I mis-timed one of the steps in the dark. If me at 31 and in good shape can do it, I can only imagine how dangerous it would be for residents in their 60s and above. We encountered a lot of senior citizens who were immigrants from Russia, and lucky for us, one of the volunteers with us, spoke Russian, so we could ask questions and address needs easier. The volunteer I was teamed up with said she was staying with her mother nearby and was really touched to see how far many of us came to be here to help.
One of the most remarkable things from this experience…the victims of this hurricane, the ones who had been in their homes since the start of the hurricane, unable to go down to leave, were trying to say “no thank you” to our supplies, in an effort to ‘not take from others who may need it more’ was my impression of what’s happening. We were able to talk them into taking water and food and blankets at the least, but it was profound for us to be a part of this relief effort. One man’s caretaker stayed for the storm and I’m glad to see he never left his patient. Many of the elderly were staying warm with layers of coats and their stove burners on. They were thankful to see us, and we were thanked the entire time we worked that building. We thanked them. It was a honor to be able to serve them in this way – we just wish it wasn’t under these circumstances.
Grateful, more than ever, to have the able-ability to help others in need, for my family and friends, for the roof over my head, the heat in my apartment, the ability to feed myself and the power to be able to share this with you and help spread the word about all that is happening here in New York City. Thank you to my friends, Andrea Reese, Alice Ro and Stacey Hensel, who were part of our mini-relief mission to do what we could do to help our community.
HOW YOU CAN HELP NYC (all boroughs and surrounding areas like Coney Island, Staten Island, Far Rockaway), NEW JERSEY (Hoboken, Jersey Shore and others) and MORE:
-A more extensive list coming soon – we recommend a good starting point:
- From Kari Tucker-Boyer on Facebook: “The Armory, John Jay and Brooklyn Tech in Brooklyn are desperately asking for sweatpants (M-XL adult), blankets, towels, winter hats and scarves to protect from hypothermia with the housed elderly. Please pass this on in any way if you are able to the community. They also need volunteers. They are having trouble with overnight, especially at 4am when patients wake up. Thank you! Please pass on no matter where you might be located.”
- Disaster Relief for Families with Special Needs by LoveThatMax (Facebook, Twitter) Don’t forget those with special needs.
- Ali Forney Center (Facebook, Twitter), who serve LGBTQ homeless youth, was badly hit. “Yesterday we were finally able to inspect our drop-in center in Chelsea, half a block from the Hudson River. Our worst fears were realized; everything was destroyed and the space is uninhabitable. The water level went four feet high, destroying our phones, computers, refrigerator, food and supplies.”
- Red Hook Initiative (Facebook, Twitter): Volunteers and supplies for Red Hook!
- Masbia Soup Kitchen Network (Facebook, Twitter): helping serve hot meals for over 500 relocated senior citizens in Brooklyn!
- Hurricane Sandy Lost and Found Pets on Facebook.
- Occupy Sandy Relief (Facebook, Twitter): Working where FEMA doesn’t or can’t get to right now. As they happen updates: http://interoccupy.net/occupysandy/live/. More on their work at the Huffington Post.
- Hoboken, NJ Information
- Staten Island, NY Resources
- Rebuild Staten Island on Facebook: For anyone interested in volunteering or for all information regarding the relief effort on Staten Island.