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Massive volunteer Sandy relief effort underway in Brooklyn

Volunteers sort boxes of donated supplies at Visitation Church in Red Hook as part of a massive, ad hoc relief effort for victims of Hurricane Sandy still without power and heat a week after the storm. Photo by Mary Frost

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Thousands of volunteers joined impromptu relief organizations across Brooklyn this past weekend to supply food, water and other necessities to Red Hook, Coney Island and other areas still suffering from flooding and blackouts a week after Hurricane Sandy.

Power is still off in many Red Hook buildings, and of those that do have power, few have heat or hot water. Businesses are still pumping water from basements and the smell of putrid water hangs over whole blocks.

Inside the landmarked Visitation Church in Red Hook dozens of volunteers working in shifts sorted boxes and bags of donations coming in by car and foot. "We're collaborating with Red Hook Initiative and Catholic Charities and working together as a community to serve Red Hook," said Diana Coriat, the church's coordinator, under acting pastor Father Claudio Antenci.

"The MTA sent a couple of bus loads, City Harvest sent two trailers and people are purchasing items to donate. But we still have a great need," she told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. "The church has no lights – we're using generators. We lost everything downstairs in the basement, the lobby and the church pantry, and the phones are down." Coriat said people who wish to donate can drop food, drinks, toiletries and baby supplies off from Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. at the church, located at 98 Richards Street at the corner of Verona Street 11231.

Red Hook Initiative is coordinating hundreds of volunteers to serve food, help businesses clean up and help distribute food and supplies in the Red Hook Houses. "The situation is feeling more dire," RHI said in a statement Monday. "The business community is still largely without power and are still pumping water out and beginning the slow climb to rebuild." Volunteers should check RHI's website to locate instructions about how to volunteer.

The amount of volunteer effort in Park Slope is amazing, said Lise Engber. "It's more than I realized would happen. People are having bake sales and dropping off items at Beth Elohim, the Park Slope Jewish Center, Brad Lander's office and tons of businesses. Park Slope Parents organized drop-offs at the JJ Byrne playground at the Old Stone House.

"It's rally sad how cold it is. I've been knitting a lot – hats and scarves for people." Engber said her kids have been helping take stuff to shelters. While they're too young to help out, "They've donated clothing, blankets, hats and scarves, and they've helped load cars," she said.

The scene was replayed in neighborhoods across Brooklyn. In Brooklyn Heights, volunteers dropped off and loaded mounds of supplies at Brooklyn Borough Hall, Halstead Realty on Montague Street, an Iris Cafe property at 71 Atlantic Avenue, Grace Church, Congregation Mount Sinai, Brooklyn Heights Synagogue and other synagogues and churches. People bought bags of produce at the Borough Hall Greenmarket and they were delivered to areas in need.

More than a dozen DUMBO businesses – including Galapagos Art Space, Governor, One Girl Cookie and powerHouse Arena -- suffered significant damage during Sandy. Volunteers have been helping to mop, clean and throw out, and The DUMBO Improvement District is throwing a fundraiser and auction on Wednesday, November 7 from 6 – 10 p.m.

An absolutely astounding effort is being run by Occupy Sandy (from the same people who Occupied Wall Street) from St. Jacobi Church in Sunset Park. The group is routing supplies and volunteers – including doctors and other professionals -- to dozens of hard-hit locations all around the city.

"St. Jacobi Church serves as the main distribution center," said one volunteer who didn't want her name used. "People are given a brief orientation, then after that they sign up and list any special skills. Then they're matched up with a job. They may go out to the Rockaways, Staten Island, Red Hook or they might sort supplies or prepare food at the church.

"The first day I took loads of non-perishable goods out to vehicles and prepared raw produce to be cooked," she said. "I spent the second day making sandwiches and took them out to vehicles." Individuals and local groups donated all the food, she said. "Social media helped considerably. We put out a call we needed produce or bread, and very quickly people showed up with it. Baked In Brooklyn donated 10 boxes of bread. A volunteer went in to purchase it, and they said 'Just take it.'"

"The Occupy Sandy effort is massive," she said. "I'm surprised how organized everything was amidst the chaos. On the lower floor alone more than 100 volunteers were working, not counting people out driving supplies and working in the field at other sites. The atmosphere was great, people from all over Brooklyn who wanted to help showed up. I heard we were able to send out 10,000 meals to people, plus cleaning supplies, clothing, pet food. It was a constant swirl."

People who want to help at Occupy Sandy should visit http://interoccupy.net/occupysandy/#2

The group is also using Amazon's gift registry service to allow people to sent presents of blankets, flashlights and hygiene products through Amazon. Items will be shipped to the Occupy Sandy relief outpost at the Church of St. Luke and St. Matthew in Clinton Hill (520 Clinton Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11238).

November 5, 2012 - 4:19pm


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