New York, NY–My friend and I desperately wanted to get out and help in the Rockaways or Staten Island, but no one we knew had a car with gas. We decided to rent a car in Manhattan, drive to the Occupy Sandy hub and pick up more volunteers, and continue on to help. We picked up 3 extra volunteers and headed to what we thought was the Rockaways. A bad input on GPS sent us over the Verrazzano, so we quickly searched for opportunities on Staten Island. An occupy posting led us to a distribution center, who gave us a new address on Cuba Avenue. Here, several savvy 20-somethings were working like crazy in someone’s front yard to organize dozens of volunteers that were arriving, looking to help. I don’t know how they organized, or where the volunteers were coming from. But they were working frantically to help the community and keep everyone busy: sign in, get gloves, have a muffin, get your address, and get to work. And we were briefed in true Staten Island fashion: “Some people may say no at first. But they need your fucking help. They’ve got to clean up their shit, and you’re here to help them. So don’t fucking take no for an answer. (pause) But say it nicely.”
From there, our team helped a few families clean out their basements–families that days later were still clearly in shock with what had happened. They took our help immediately and gratefully. People were heartbroken but strong.
At the end of the tasks, they realized how much work got done with 10 pairs of hands instead of their own, and they couldn’t believe it. “How do you all know each other?” “We don’t.” I think that was one of the most surprising things to those we helped–that 10 strangers with a common goal of just helping people could work seamlessly to get a job done.
By the early afternoon, there were so many people in Staten Island that there wasn’t much to be done. The team on Cuba Avenue had organized the cleaning of over 50 homes in their neighborhood that morning. It wasn’t a lot, but collectively, hundreds of people helped a neighborhood clean up. Kudos to the team on Cuba Avenue who brought everyone together to make it happen.