It’s been 30-plus days since Hurricane Sandy hit. For families still facing the recovery efforts, guess what victuals they need today and again tomorrow. Water? More food? Try again.
While it may seem that water and food top the “must have” items list, Mark A. Torres, chair of People Power Movement-Movimiento Poder Popular (PPM-MPP), while aiding families recovering in Brooklyn’s Red Hook and Coney Island sections, was told to bring something else: soap.
“I was surprised when I met people in Coney Island,” said Torres to AmNews. “They told me they had received plenty of water and food and needed stuff like baggies of toothpaste and soap and disinfectant–the stuff to make them feel human again.”
Upon hearing the request for soap and hygienic products, Torres rushed to the nearest store, a Conway, which surprisingly donated some of the items.
Soap and toothpaste for families still fighting to survive Sandy with their dignity intact seems like a no-brainer, except for the fact that in times of crisis, it actually takes some thought to provide thoughtful aid. With stories of how successful relief efforts have been, as shared by members of groups like Occupy Sandy, providing thoughtful aid may come easiest from a caring neighbor.
“We have a member, Maria Reyes, who lives in Red Hook. She began reaching out to her neighbors,” said Torres. “Then during the gas shortage, our group decided to stock our bikes with goods and ride from Harlem to Red Hook, stopping along the way in places like Chinatown. Heard of the Ho Chi Minh trail? We were inspired by it.”
Torres, who says his group is mainly involved in helping people in public housing recover, can’t quantify how much in time or resources his two-year-old group has given in the recovery efforts since they began helping in early November, but he says he’s personally shelled out nearly $400 in cash to buy vitals like generators and batteries and the little stuff that often goes overlooked.
Another volunteer relief leader, Brother Shep Olugbala, added to the list of commonly overlooked items with something that seems simple enough: a can opener.
“You’d be surprised the number of canned goods that are donated without can openers. Without a can opener, most of all those canned goods are no good.”
That’s why the organization Olugbala runs, the People’s Survival Program (PSP), takes a different approach to relief.
“We train neighbors to train each other, following the ‘each one, teach one’ model,” he said.
These community efforts by Sandy victims to rebuild by organizing seems to be the next phase of the recovery, presenting a stark contrast to the bulk of government contrac tors scrambling in response to Sandy and the destruction left in its wake. According to New York state executive statements, the cost of the storm is almost $42 billion and includes $15 billion in damages and future protection costs just in New York City.
Earlier this week on Monday, in an update regarding recovery efforts, Govs. Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie issued a joint statement that read: “New York and New Jersey sustained remarkable, widespread damage to homes, infrastructure, businesses and our economies as a whole from Hurricane Sandy. The two states represent a combined regional and national economic powerhouse, with intersecting and overlapping interests in terms of our local economies, U.S. and world financial markets, transit and highway infrastructure and tourism.
“These economic and geographic factors motivate us and our congressional delegations to make a mutual, nonpartisan commitment to bringing the appropriate federal aid back to our states as expeditiously as possible. Our message to all people is the same: We need the full funding for our aid to arrive, hopefully before the end of the year. We are sure that we will require more aid in the future, but we need this full commitment now.”
Yet, community groups like PPM-MPP and PSP have not been bound by governmental red tape, nor have they been waiting for federal aid. Instead, both have determined to dive into the epicenter of the relief effort without any aid except that which comes from individuals or nonprofit organizations.
However, both Olugbala and Torres admit that their efforts could use a boost of more support from concerned community members. How can you help? Both say a phone call would be a start, and volunteering your free time would make a world of difference.
“Right now it’s about organizing these people to be able to stabilize themselves. The people in Coney Island are still struggling, but the people in Red Hook have already decided to form their own organization aside from NYCHA. It will be hard, but to be honest, many of the issues plaguing people in public housing were happening before Sandy hit. People who want to help should call us, and depending on if they can help volunteer or only provide us with money or goods, we can direct them further.”
Olugbala, echoing Torres, said, “People may not believe this, but we have more goods than people that can give them out. We have enough goods that can be given out daily, but because of the limited manpower we have, we can only keep our efforts up once a week.”
To reach the People Power Movement-
Movimiento Poder Popular, call 646-696-8485, and to reach the People’s Survivor Program, call 212-650-5008.