After Sandy, my people are moving.

Photo by Leah Michalos

(All photos in this post are courtesy of Leah Michalos.)

I still can’t wrap my head around Sandy and her wake. I’ve been trying for two weeks, and social media—the Facebook and blog posts, emails, and tweets from my NYC-based friends—is the only thing that is helping me to visualize if not comprehend the damage. These updates and meditations are also serving as daily reminders of the power of community, grassroots organizing, and stories.

I’ve compiled some examples of the grassroots organizing my friends are doing, plus ways you can get involved, below. If you want to skip my singing-of-praises and just make a difference right now, visit this Amazon gift registry and send some cleaning supplies, batteries, or clothes to people in need.

Photo by Leah Michalos

Photo by Leah Michalos

In between volunteer shifts, Deanna (on Twitter at @deanna) has, among many other things, used her Forbes.com pulpet to write thoughtful pieces like When Good Intentions Aren’t Enough: How to Improve Sandy Relief and  What Sandy Has Taught Us About Technology, Relief and Resilience.

My girl Anne (on Twitter at @annetastic), who works at Blue Marble in Prospect Heights, told her nice neighbor-customers that she was donating a days’ worth of tips last week; by 10 a.m. she had already raised a hundred bucks. (Anne, if you see this, leave a comment and tell us what the grand total was!)

Monica (on Twitter at @MonicaOMdeC) and her neighbors on the Upper West Side have collected tons of supplies, made hundreds if not thousands of sandwiches, and are finding ways to get ’em all to people who need them (mostly, I believe, through Occupy). If you know people on the UWS who might like to help, encourage them to check out UWSloves on Facebook.

And then there’s the intrepid Park Slope-based Leah (on Twitter at @mechalos). For two weeks now Leah has been driving to the Rockaways, to Staten Island, to wherever she can get her trusty old SUV, Pebbles, on whatever gas she can find. This weekend Leah drove some other friends, including Annie, to the Rockaways. I added some of Leah’s photos to this excerpt from Annie’s blog post, A note from Sandy-land:

One story I’d like to share with you/the world is a young man’s named M. who owns, not rents, a first-floor apartment in a condominium complex facing the shore. He has a three-month old baby. He works in IT and immigrated to the United States. His wife, the baby and him are currently staying at her parents’ studio apartment several miles away in a northern part of Brooklyn. His home, when we first saw it, was literally filled with sand, dirt, sewage and buried inside that, what remained of his belongings.

Photo by Leah Michalos

He has insurance but not enough coverage to recoup his losses. I think this is the lot most Rockaway residents will find themselves in — not a lot of insurance policies offer Florida-level coverage to New Yorkers, nor could the residents afford it. Most of his furniture is gone because it washed away with his other belongings into the ocean, including the crib his child slept in.

Photo by Leah Michalos

When we arrived at his house, no one had been by to help him yet, though there were Red Cross and military officers just yards away. He was unshowered and clearly exhausted. Sandy hit ten days ago. Several other volunteers from New York showed up shortly after we did, and we all managed to shovel the bulk of sand from his living room, kitchen, bedroom and bath, but his basement is another story. The mud, sand and other “materials” rose above our ankles. My friend J. found a framed photo covered in black — I’ll just say it — shit and wiped it off. It was his and his wife’s wedding photo. When we brought it to M. he looked stunned, then began to cry.

Leah, Annie, Monica, Anne, and Deanna are just a few of the people who embody “community” and keep me hopeful when it is otherwise so easy to feel hopeless. Some of my hopes:

  • That if you have more than a few dollars, you’ll go to the Occupy Sandy “gift registry” and buy a whole lot of one type of item. (My understanding is that speeds things up for volunteers on the receiving end, who then spend less time sorting and can hustle the items to folks faster.)
  • That if you are in greater NYC and happen to have large muscles and the ability to lift heavy objects, you will go volunteer to help carry debris out of wrecked homes. Annie explains in her blog post: “The army and their trucks line the shore but cannot go inside private property unless someone is in immediate danger… The able-bodied men in uniform, whom we all assume want to help, cannot do the bulk of the hard, taxing work like removing moldy furniture, shoveling sand, and removing debris from homes.” Know someone burly? Share this with them.
  • That if you’re in greater NYC but maybe are not so burly, are unable to leave your own ‘hood, and/or aren’t already connected to a group you’d like to volunteer with, you find another way to participate, whether by cooking with UWSloves or diving in via the Occupy Sandy Facebook page.

I’ve got a second installment coming soon. That’s how full of love and solidarity New York is.

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