'Occupy Sandy' Relief Effort Fills Much-Needed Role

Category: Media & Culture / Nov 19, 2012 8:01PM EDT
Volunteers for ‘Occupy Sandy’ are working all over Brooklyn and Queens New York to help those still in need after Hurricane Sandy ripped through the city, damaging flood-prone areas and leaving many without power. The group has set up a sort of central command in Brooklyn’s Clinton Hill neighborhood in a Catholic sanctuary graciously offered by its clergy. Pastor Chris Ballard explained how the church got involved. “The rector, the number one priest here, was part of the Occupy Wall Street movement. He was arrested with them while protesting downtown and so those relationships were made. He has great street cred as a result of being arrested. So when the hurricane happened and the Occupy Wall Street folks reached out to different churches we were a natural place to put stuff.” While the energy of the Occupy Wall Street movement is evident, this time around there’s no talk of politics. As Lyle Stone-Diaz put it, it’s all about helping your fellow neighbor. “It is different. We have really no political agenda that we’re pushing here. This is really an off-shoot. Occupy the movement is what brought everybody together, but this is really just about helping people any way that we possibly can.” Occupy Sandy has seen some 20,000 volunteers come through and the Occupy Sandy wedding registry on Amazon.com has raised over $650,000 in supplies. “We have a bridal registry set up so people can come to us with needs, we can get them on the registry and then people who want to help out in other parts of the country have been great, purchasing things off the registry, cleaning supplies, blankets, all sorts of stuff. So we get lots of big deliveries coming in and then try and fill as many trucks and get them out to the affected areas as we can every day,” Stone-Diaz explained. Father Ballard told us the group’s success is due to the fact that they don’t operate like a traditional relief effort. “It’s been successful because many, many relief efforts come from the top down. In other words, supplies are given to people because this is what we think you need. There is an entire stack of clothing over there because people think that’s what people want. What’s different about Occupy Sandy is it goes into the field with canvassers asking people what they need, not telling them what they need. So from that effort they then communicate that to our communications center and from that communication center they send out a picking sheet, our volunteer drivers then come and get the supplies that are needed, put it in their cars and take it directly to them.” Although power has been restored to most of the region and cleanup efforts are under way site coordinator Amy Weng told us there is still a great need for volunteers and supplies. “Well it’s still the same issues in certain areas. Yesterday I went to Coney Island. They still don’t have heat or hot water and the electricity is very spotty. You’ll see three blocks of blacked-out houses and then maybe one store with electricity and maybe that store just has a generator. It still needs a lot of work and we still need a lot of help.” Father Chris Ballard: “It’s so completely not over. I think that’s the natural progression of volunteering during a disaster, the immediate need is so intense that people get it and then people gradually return to their normal lives and these things take a lower spot on the priority list. I think what’s really important to remember is that this is an intense need still, this is a really big disaster, it is a concentrated disaster area on Staten Island, the Rockaways and also on Long Island and of course New Jersey. Even coming and volunteering for an hour or two is a big deal and it’s so greatly appreciated.”