I’d have been suspicious of me.
Here I was, a stranger with no identifying jacket, or armband, or hat, or badge, walking around, alone, knocking on doors asking questions with an iPhone in-hand and logging answers and addresses into my shiny device.
"Good morning, I’m a volunteer with the United Way of New York conducting a survey of residents’ evolving needs after the storm. The information is to be used by State, Federal and Non-profit agencies. Can I take ten minutes of your time and ask you a few questions?"
That’s how I explained my presence on their doorstep. I was assigned a two-block area, Beach 91st and Beach 92nd streets, between Beach Channel Drive and Rockaway Beach Blvd, near the Thai Rock restaurant.
But to my surprise, the vast majority of the residents there opened their doors and answered the intrusive questions. They were friendly, kind, gracious people, eager to respond. Many here are firemen. They’re strong, resilient folks.
”Do you have food?”
"Do you have water?"
"Do you have electricity?"
The blocks are mostly composed of detached single- and multi-family homes. Beach 92nd street was particularly striking because of how clean and ordered it was. No debris was visible on it. I was almost tempted to say that things were fine here.
The survey questions made me feel silly. They seemed outdated, out of tune. But upon a closer inspection, things were not as fine as they seemed - not by a long-shot. While residents here had food, water and electricity, some were still without heat.
A retired fireman told me he’d recently switched to natural gas after the storm. “I have heat but my brother-in-law still doesn’t. I called a contractor. He’s still waiting on Rapid Response,” he said.
After the survey we sat a bit, chatting about how his family weathered the tempest. His bushy mustache framed a determined smile. It was a smile, I thought, chiseled into his face from years of work as a rescuer. I imagined it would have been especially reassuring to see it if I’d been trapped in a burning building.
As the ocean flooded his basement, he recounted, his oil tank had leaked all over. That’s when I finally pinpointed the smell that permeated his home.
In this section of Far Rockaway, things were coming along, but lots of people still didn’t have heat. Those that did, had it because of their own effort and expense.
Those relying on the city were still waiting for heat.
One family - a mom, dad and two-year-old - like many of their neighbors, were using space-heaters for warmth as they waited for “rapid response.” The father was a 41-year-old filmmaker who made a documentary about Far Rockaway’s surfer culture. The family had only recently bought their home.
They weren’t worried about the heat, it was on the way. They were OK, they said. Once again, a block away, amid the grim recovery, there were smiles. But the optimism was tempered by the long legal, financial and emotional journey they now faced.
As I left the home I noticed two guys in a brand-new Mercedes going door-to-door giving away space-heaters.
Recovery on Far Rockaway has been uneven.
Many have it a lot worse than the area I visited on Saturday. One of the volunteers in charge of organizing the collected survey data told me that many of the poorest folks still don’t have access to food, or water, or electricity. “It’s disgusting.”
But regardless of socio-economic status, all residents of Far Rockaway face a daunting bureaucratic nightmare.
They are juggling FEMA applications, insurance claims, and disaster unemployment assistance, just to name a few issues. Landlord/tenant problems are becoming more pervasive as slumlords drag their feet to make repairs to damaged homes, many of which still lack electricity, heat, and hot water. For the poorest, food is still not easily accessible. Even in the middle-class area I was in, the supermarket had only been open for a day or so. Folks that don’t have cars or money to shop or friends to give them rides are still dependent on the food pantries and hot food tables offered by volunteers.
A new phase of volunteering is gaining momentum: legal guidance.
There is free legal help available for residents to navigate the bureaucracy, but I worry that they don’t know about it. So I want to try and get the word out and I’m starting here, by listing a few resources I’ve found:
1) The definitive disaster legal assistance manual from Legal Services NYC (PDF):
2) A calendar of upcoming law clinics, New York Free Disaster Assistance Legal Clinics:
3) For law help including general information about disaster relief - Disaster relief for small businesses and not-for-profit organizations - Disaster unemployment assistance (DUA) and other work problems related to Hurricane Sandy - FEMA disaster assistance - Food stamp replacement - Homeowners: insurance and foreclosures - Immigrants affected by Hurricane Sandy - Tenants affected by Hurricane Sandy:
4) Follow the NY Bar’s blog - City Bar Justice Center news:
5) For lawyers and non-lawyer volunteer opportunities - Hurricane Sandy Legal Relief Efforts:
Please consider helping out this Thursday and Friday! Especially if you have a car.
A letter from Occupy:
Dear Occupy Sandy volunteers,
St. Jacobi (54th and 4th ave) and St. Luke and St. Matthews (520 Clinton ave) churches have generously hosted the Occupy Sandy effort for almost a month now and we couldn’t be more grateful to both communities!
However, on Friday, November 30th, we will start to adjust our operations as we streamline our efforts and prepare for the long haul. Please see important announcements about these changes below.
DONATIONS: St. Jacobi church will stop accepting donated goods as of close of business Wednesday, November 28th and 520 Clinton will stop accepting donated goods on Friday, November 30th. In the interim period, please take all donated goods to Beach 100 and Rockaway Beach Blvd in the Rockaways, 2828 Neptune Ave in Coney Island or 1128 Olympia Blvd in Staten Island. Keep your eyes and ears open for more information about future distribution centers.
VOLUNTEERS & VEHICLES: St. Jacobi will need extra volunteers and vehicles to help clean up the church on Thursday, November 29th and Friday, November 30th and will no longer intake volunteers starting Saturday Dec 1st. 520 Clinton will continue to intake volunteers and dispatch vehicles until further notice.
THANK YOU to all of the members of the Jacobi church and the St. Luke and St. Matthews churches for welcoming us into their community and THANK YOU to all of the volunteers who helped make the both spaces run. We look forward to working with all of you as we continue to do all of the important work ahead of us.
November 28, 2012
1. Talk to your boss about a day off
Holiday time… Office parties and social parties and family parties and friend parties. Shopping and other holiday prep. Eating too much and being a glutton. Not much work is happening at the office. It’s the perfect time for you and your coworkers to take a day during the week to volunteer. The number of volunteers drops precipitously Monday through Thursday, and volunteers are still desperately needed to help with mold remediation, clean up, demolition/construction, distribution of heaters, and distribution of information on legal aid/small business resources.
It’s just one day. Maybe the boss will okay it. Maybe the boss will want to come, too! Bring your own lunch. Fan out in teams of 10 and head to Coney Island or the Rockaways or Staten Island or Sheepshead Bay. You’ll be so happy you did.
There aren’t many volunteer groups that will actually stick around after everyone forgets Hurricane Sandy happened. That’s the nature of disaster relief. But the process of rebuilding a community takes months and years. So it’s great to see local businesses transform into relief centers and local residents turn into community organizers.
Lava Girl Surf and the Rockaway Beach Surf Club have been running of the best organized relief hubs in the Rockaways. Their stated mission “is to keep the Rockaway community intact and get our displaced residents back as soon as possible.”
Since Lava Girl Surf will be at the beach for lots of summers to come, they’re also strengthening ties between year-round residents and day-trippers, wealthier and poorer parts of the community, between so-called gentrifiers and the so-called gentrified.
If you want to support them or volunteer with them, head to the Surf Club at Beach 87th Street. They’re open daily from 10-5. More info here.
November 27, 2012
- There will be legal clinics for small business owners in the Rockaways beginning today, November 27, and ongoing every Tuesday and Friday through December.
Meet at Irish Circle, Beach 102nd and Rockaway Beach Boulevard. Open from 10am-4pm.
- CAAAV is also holding legal clinics for Mandarin, Cantonese, and Fujianese speakers. Call the CAAAV office at (212) 473-6485 if you have any questions, or email Esther at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- NYLAG has a hurricane legal aid unit to help with the sea of paperwork and claims.
To volunteer to provide pro bono legal assistance, email email@example.com and check the calendar below for updates.
2. Fight for your rights, and those of your neighbors (via Occupy Sandy)
Today from 9am-11am people will gather at NYCHA HQ, 250 Broadway, NY NY 10007, to make the following demands:
* Immediately: 2 month rent credit for November and December (which speeds up and extends NYCHA’s promised rent credit for January).
*Long-term: Put a moratorium on evictions. Increase and ensure sufficient federal disaster relief funding to NYCHA. Replace NYCHA board with a community-led board. Employ NYCHA residents for intensive building repairs instead of outsourcing jobs. Implement long-term alternative power and weather-prepared solutions. Enact general accountability and transparency to residents.
Given the appalling conditions people have lived in since October, and the fact that many will not have heat for weeks, in the dead of winter, it makes sense to put this all on the table.
If you can’t come to the rally, start calling NYCHA! Call your local reps. Let them know that it’s not okay to treat people this way just because they’re poor.
The group at Veggie Island launched one of the most important grassroots relief efforts in the hours after the storm, owing in large part to the fact that the owners knew the Rockaways well and already had ties to the community. It looks like the Veggie Island crew has decided officially organize under the name Smallwater. From the group’s site:
"Smallwater is a grassroots disaster relief initiative based in the Rockaways at Beach 96th Street. Formed out of necessity in the immediate aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, the initiative is led by a core group of Rockaway residents who are deeply invested in rebuilding a sustainable Rockaway community. What started simply as a donation drop-off center at Veggie Island has evolved into a larger, long-term initiative of community rebuilding. Smallwater’s intimate knowledge of the peninsula, its people and its needs allow Smallwater to play the vital lead role of coordinating peninsula-wide volunteer efforts as well as act as a central information, donation collection and distribution center."
I’ll be interested to see if the group maintains independence. Most of the smaller grassroots orgs are being absorbed by Occupy Sandy, since Occupy has a massive distribution web and, frankly, an amazing branding machine with great name recognition. While most of the smaller organizations are advantaged in terms of local knowledge and actual ties to devastated communities, Occupy has the resources.
The group now known as Smallwater has a really thorough and constantly updated donation needs list here. They’ve been really organized and are known well among residents, so I’d definitely recommend volunteering with them.
Smallwater contact info is here:
Extraordinary story from the NYTimes about how inmates pitched in to help after the hurricane. Many of the prisoners and the guards have ties to the Rockaways, and their efforts were really amazing.
"Inmates did 6,600 pounds of laundry for people in emergency shelters. The jail supplied generators and gas to fuel them to neighborhoods in the dark, and donated long underwear usually given to inmates. And officers with medical training provided emergency care to victims.
Ms. Schriro, a Staten Island native who lives on City Island in the Bronx, and her deputies started strategizing how they would tap Rikers’s enormous resources even as the storm was still raging. Ms. Schriro had already reminded the Bloomberg administration of all that Rikers had to offer should the storm prove to be as catastrophic as predicted.
"But Ms. Schriro felt a greater sense of urgency after seeing firsthand what the storm had done to the Rockaways, a place that is home to some of the jail’s inmates as well as to some of the guards who watch over them. She mobilized a group of correction officers to deliver truckloads of canned and dried goods from the island’s food supply and to use emergency relief supplies from the jail’s warehouses, including bottled water and blankets. The agency also delivered clothing to relief centers in the city, including jackets kept for inmates.
"Officers took generators and backup lights from various jails to Breezy Point, Queens, and other locations. Correction Department buses and vans transported evacuees on Staten Island and shuttled recovery workers in Brooklyn."
Am at the bay ridge cares kitchen today doing what I’m told. My overlords are Allison Robicelli and Lawrence Daggett, cooks who figure out how to make actually tasty and nourishing meals each day from whatever ingredients fall in their lap. Oh yeah, and then they feed hundreds of people. Like 800.
It’s one part Iron Chef, one part catering gig,and one part mutual aid society. They’re doing such a great job that Food52 (Amanda Hesser project) and Whole Foods have donated to the cause!
Today’s challenge: Thanksgiving dinner for Coney Island, Brighton Beach, and Sheepshead Bay.
1. The Thanksgiving fly around
So much to do before the holiday… buying food, booking tickets, renting cars, peeling all that damn squash. And sharing the holiday with your fellow New Yorkers. Here are a few opportunities that some of you may be able to work into this hectic week.