Volunteering for Sandy Relief

On Friday, MYD joined a coalition of organizations in New York City – including Greater NYC for Change, Working Families Party, Transit Forward and Citizen Action of New York and many more – to call on Governor Cuomo and Mayor Bloomberg to increase support for those without power, water and heat in affected areas.  Here’s a full text of the letter.

Joining thousands of volunteers all weekend, various members of this coalition assisted in the Sandy recovery effort in the Rockaways.

On Saturday, as part of a city-wide day of service, Transit Forward mobilized buses of volunteers to Far Rockaway.  The day began in Manhattan around 9am when the bus was scheduled to leave Chelsea.  They sorted everything as best they could — coats, clothes, socks, blankets, water, toiletres and food.  Before they could even get organized, people started walking up to ask if they could take things.  Protocol was established with the assistance of NYPD.  Aliya Quraishi of Greater NYC for Change captured the day’s events in a moving and thorough report.  The full report is available at the bottom of this blog post.

The momentum continued on Sunday as trips organized by the City Council left City Hall for affected areas in Queens and Brooklyn.  On a bus to Far Rockaway, we arrived around 11am at Mt. Carmel Baptist Church, our site for the day.  The church was devastated by extensive flooding and other damage inflicted by the storm.

Volunteers were swiftly organized into groups to get to work on several projects throughout the day — a massive cleanup removing flood soaked rugs, furniture and everything else in the church; sorting clothes and toys; and distributing food and clothing to neighborhood residents.  We got a lot accomplished in one day on site.  There was a constant flow of people coming to the church throughout the day for food & goods.  Talking with residents throughout the day, they were appreciative of the work of volunteers, resilient in the face of an immense challenge and very concerned about health, safety and uncertainfutures of their loved ones.

As temperatures drop, facing the prospects of no power, heat and hot water through the Thanksgiving holiday, there’s so much more we can do to help our friends and neighbors most affected by the storm.  If you’re interested in getting on a bus out to the Rockaways and other affected areas this Saturday, email me at [email protected].

Sandy volunteering report by Aliya Quraishi of Greater NYC for Change:

The day began in Manhattan on Saturday around 9am when our bus was scheduled to leave from Chelsea. We left a little late as we were busy figuring out how to load donations on the MTA bus while leaving enough room for passengers. I definitely will not look at a city bus the same way again.

Once we set out to the Far Rockaways, we made two stops in Brooklyn. The more memorable of the two was in Bed-Sty where we picked up the majority of volunteers. There was a woman who made an announcement on the bus. She said that the first time that she had volunteered in life was in Washington DC in 1954 for the integration of schools and she hasn’t stopped since.

Her comments and those of others throughout the day made me realize that this was not just an issue of providing relief to those struck by a hurricane but helping those who have lived a long history of political disenfranchisement and poverty.

Once we got closer to the Rockaways, traffic started to bottleneck near the bridge. Traffic was full of cars of both volunteers with donations and locals working to repair their homes.  And we also encountered a similar bottleneck leaving later in the day. By night fall, it gets pretty dark. Around 3:30pm, we saw the NYPD setting up floodlights in areas where there was no electricity or stoplights to provide for some light. On our way out of town, I did see a boat that had been washed up on to the median of the road. So surreal.

Our bus pulled into the Rockaways and parked near 49th street and the adventure truly began. Volunteers quickly unloaded the MTA bus. We ended up setting up our “shop” of free goods in Conch Playground nearby. We sorted everything as best we could. Coats, clothes, socks, blankets, water, toiletries and food. Before we could get organized people started walking up to us to ask if they could just take things. This became awkward because many of us just arrived from the city and didn’t know the protocol.

We soon came to learn from the NYPD standing nearby that distribution of goods would start at 1pm and everyone needed to wait in line outside the playground. We were told to tell people that we could not let them take our items because they were meant for those who were elderly and/or homebound. However, there was hot food available courtesy of Operation Blessing (10ft from us) and items for individuals on the other side of the playground. This was awkward. I didn’t like saying no, however, I understand the need to maintain order.

When we first arrived we were divided into groups of 4. After setting up shop, we expected to be told where it would be best to distribute food and supplies. However, no clear directions came. This was the major difference from our Obama work. There wasn’t a local person who came to tell us where the most need was or how we could contribute. We were just on our own to figure out how we could be helpful. The American Red Cross was there but they were not doing much except distributing a list of phone numbers and emergency materials. At least this was my experience.

So, we came up with a plan.  Ahsen and Ahmad from MYD  went up to the NYPD and asked where people may need help. They advised to go to some nearby public housing with supplies. While Ahmad went to scout out the building, Ahsen and I worked with our team plus two or three other teams who were restless and looking for work to put together a super team of 13. We quickly went through the shop and loaded up bags of supplies.

Once Ahmad gave us the thumbs up we went over to the buildings and started distributing stuff.  At first we thought we would do two people per floor but finally 9 of us just went from floor to floor together. As people opened the door and asked for particular supplies we all went through our stuff to see if we had their specific needs. It was like a traveling Duane Reade.

After we finished, we went back and resupplied. And went back to the projects. This time we were a group of 14. We divided up into groups of 7 and went to two different buildings and started the process of knocking on doors and asking people what they needed.  All in all, our team included young professionals, two older people, four high schoolers and one man who was either homeless (he carried his possessions all day long or himself living in government housing. He got on the bus with us in Chelsea. Apparently, he has been watching Yetta (Y2K) for the last 3 years.

All in all, we got a lot done. It was exhausting but so rewarding. There is so much more that is needed on a local level in Rockaway.