People everywhere were stunned to read and see the effects of Hurricane Sandy on the Connecticut shoreline, New York and New Jersey. With the devastation occurring in an area so close to my home, I had the opportunity to donate time and energy as well as make a financial donation. On November 17, I joined 4 other members of Occupy Hartford in a drive to New York to deliver supplies and labor aid to Occupy Sandy. I was reminded throughout the experience of our connectedness to each other, the goodness by which we are surrounded and the real possibility of touching lives in positive, intimate and on-going ways.
Before making this trip, I arranged to meet some Occupiers from Maine to give them donations collected by Occupy Hartford. The day was marked by acts of kindness, acts of determination and what some might refer to as “good luck” all along the way. Our first stop was at the home of friends who, while unable to make the trip, had supplies to send to the distribution center. The car was full, too full to accommodate their entire offering, unless of course, one of our passengers offered to hold a box of supplies on her lap for the entire trip. Done!
The next stop was the church in Brooklyn. After arriving at St. Luke and St. Matthew Church in Brooklyn, I was overwhelmed to see so many critical supplies ready for distribution and knew many of them may well have arrived on one of those supply runs. Circularity making an unpredicted appearance! Walking into the church was an emotional moment. The sense of order and calm amid the chaos of social need was intense. Pews extending the length of this large church are each labeled with a donation category so volunteers can easily sort through donations and put them in the right place. A vehicle dispatch table is set up to send volunteers with cars to specific areas needing help, whether supplies or clean up labor. Occupy Sandy’s use of the balcony in the church is for general dispatch – taking calls, connecting needs with solutions. In the basement level is the kitchen. Volunteers going to sites without power are offered meal bags. The 2 peanut butter sandwiches, snacks, pudding, fresh fruit and juice box I took with me when we left the church was a reminder of how the basics are the most precious in time of need.
We were asked to go to Breezy Point in Queens to help with the clean up effort. Arriving at the fire station, we were given masks, work gloves and boots. Again I had to wonder if some of the items we were using that day had passed through the hands of anyone at home. The sense of community was apparent even in the midst of the material community devastation – still without power, houses twisted to unimaginable shapes, yards and cars covered in layers of sand.
We arrived at a house completely flooded during the storm and joined in demolition efforts with others already there, some from upstate NY [including] two retired firefighters who had flown here from CA to help. We knocked down walls, tore up floors, hauled debris and shared our stories as we worked. Maura, the owner of the house, was grateful for the help and took everyone’s name and email address. She has every intention of having us back for a reunion in a rebuilt home next Spring. There’s that circularity again – house built, house destroyed, house rebuilt.
Part of our plan was to drive to Rockaway with some much needed money. We left one kind of neighborhood for another, very different in nature. Small shoreline houses were replaced by larger apartment complexes. Beach proximity was replaced by city streets. But the scene was the same in the most important respects – damaged and destroyed properties, sand covered yards, cars covered with sand and mud obviously stranded since the storm. Also apparent were the same crowds of people with brooms and shovels in hand, working to clear debris. We found our Occupy Sandy destination and met Kara from Occupy Maine, one of the drivers who had come through to pick up supplies a week or so earlier. We’d never met before but were connected through our mutual goals. Circularity. Money delivered to its intended place, it was time to head home. During the day I took pictures when possible, not as a tourist but in hopes of visually sharing the experience that might get more people involved. It was obvious that the help will be needed for a long time. So much work to do but also so many people willing to help to get it done.
I’ve often been disturbed by my own sense of pride at being part of this relief effort but I have come to the conclusion that pride in what we do to make a positive difference in our world is not a negative thing. It can be part of what drives us to act and suggest to others how they can be involved in solutions. My pride is combined with gratitude for being able to contribute to something as positive as Occupy Sandy.