This past weekend, some friends and I ventured out to the Rockaways to drop off some donated supplies we’d collected from various community initiatives, plus many we’d bought ourselves. Despite following the storm damage and relief efforts in the news, we were truly unprepared for what we saw. The images on the TV screen did little to convey the magnitude of devastation. There were random boats, cars, and pieces of the destroyed boardwalk washed up at crazy angles in the streets. You could see streaks of mud several feet high on houses showing where the waterline had been. People’s front yards were littered with ruined possessions, and there was sand everywhere. Traffic lights didn’t work, and we had to pay close attention to avoid crashing into anyone. We were told we had to leave before dark, because it was too dangerous then. Everywhere we looked, people were clearing out their houses, standing in line for supplies, or carting around food and possessions in shopping carts. Businesses were closed. There was nowhere to buy food. A spray painted wooden board propped up against a boat in the middle of the street read: “BROAD CHANNEL: THE FORGOTTEN TOWN.” While driving from one drop-off point to another, one of my friends started to cry.
I was surprised to see the government’s response dwarfed by that of community volunteers; religious groups and private citizens like us outnumbered the National Guard and FEMA in many places. In fact, the National Guard wouldn’t go to Far Rockaway at all because they deemed it “too dangerous,” despite the fact that it was one of the hardest hit places. There was also the issue of getting the supplies to people who need them; many are afraid to leave their houses due to widespread crime and robberies, and many elderly people are stuck in their (oft un-heated) buildings with no way to get down and up. Over 100 people have died in NYC alone already.
This shit is real, this shit is fucked, and folks need all the help they can get. To help drive that point home, filmmaker Alex Braverman produced a short segment that doesn’t sugarcoat what’s happening out there. It’s hard to watch, but if it spurs people to action, it will have done its job. If this video moves you to want to act (and it should), here are some ways you can help:
-The Red Cross’ response has been slow at times; Occupy Sandy has been a great source of up-to-date information on what you can do to help right now, and where to send donations if you don’t live here (and what you should send). You can even sign up for text message alerts.
-If you’re in NYC, you can organize a trip to the affected areas with your friends. Don’t rely on governmental organizations to tell you what to do! For instance, none of the official drop-off spots would take the 100+ freshly made sandwiches we brought, but people on the streets were more than happy to take them.
-This also has the added benefit of being able to ask people what they need. Go door to door if you like; you may very well end up spending the whole day at the first house you go to.
-Don’t give up. Just because things are difficult doesn’t mean you can’t make a difference. With a new storm coming this week, these areas need all the help they can get.