Dispatch from a #sandy volunteer in the Rockaways

Rockaway residents crowd around a generator to recharge their phones. Photo by Ben Hallman/Huffington Post.

This was written Mary Kate Burke, an Inwood (northern Manhattan) resident who helped transport donations to Far Rockaway: (bold and italic formatting mine)

First of all, a big hearfelt thank you to the neighborhood! Your efforts today were tremendous. I am now reporting back from what we experienced/found in Queens this afternoon with all of your donations. I would like to stress that my suggestions are only meant for the areas that we went to in Far Rockaway, and that I can’t speak for other areas hit by the storm (though I have a feeling that some of my suggestions would probably help those in Staten Island, New Jersey and elsewhere).

First up, no more clothes. (*** SEE Mary Kate’s COMMENT UPDATED BELOW. The Salvation Army has stepped in to help organize donations). Several of the dropoff places we went to had stopped taking donations. There are a few reasons for this. One, there are other high need items (which I will get to) and, two, the way that we and others have been preparing the clothes for dropoff is not particularly helpful to those people who are so desparately in need.

We visited a National Guard spot on 116th Street in the Rockaways after being turned away from Breezy Point. The National Guard (at least where we were) is only manning food and water donations. Everything else is essentially being dumped out back on the ground. Local residents are sifting through garbage bags and grabbing the few diapers and wipes that are there. There is no organization. (So, please no more clothes for now until we figure out a better system).

When we first arrived at 116th Street, we spoke to a cop and a resident who encouraged us to set up our own makeshift spot on 65th Street. Ify, the local resident who was at 116th Street with her husband and several large bags of supplies to bring back home, told us that she would lead the way, so we crammed her and some of her stuff into the Inwood Caravan (we left the husband behind) and headed down to 65th Street. As we got closer, Ify started bellowing out of the car, “These people have a truckful of shit for us!”

We arrived on 65th Street and it was a ghost town. She rallied some neighbors including several older residents who had already been at work “organizing the community,” including a council man of some sort. Don’t quote me on council man but he had some kind of leadership role. He also lived on the block.

There was no fire station. There were puddles and a scarcity of dry places to unload. And there was no National Guard. We started organizing. “You can put the water on my steps!” “Baby stuff over here!” etc…. And then the people started coming.

Council man had them line up at first and wait until we finished organizing and unloading but that only lasted so long. How could we tell these desperate people to wait any longer?

All of the food went. As did all of the toiletries, diapers, etc. Basically everything went except half a truck of clothes. We learned that things get a little dicey in parts of the Rockaways after dark and we were working against the clock.

Ultimately, Mr. Council Man told us to put all of the clothes back into the truck and try to take it somewhere else. This was tricky. We piled back into the Inwood Caravan, taking Ify with us. She helped direct us to places that were makeshift spots organized by civilians. They didn’t want any more clothes. Many of them were hipsters who had biked in to volunteer and had no way of dealing with the already overwhelming number of garbage bags of clothes. Let’s hope it doesn’t rain anytime soon.

We eventually went back to the 116th Street National Guard station and thankfully were able to leave them there after we realized that Salvation Army trucks were rolling in and collecting in response to the overabundance of clothes. Phew.

Here is what people need in Far Rockaway. (Remember, there are no traffic lights, power, water, etc., for miles.)

1. Diapers!!! After we ran out (and several people asked for them), Jaimie and I hightailed it back up to 116th Street and I grabbed the few boxes that were there, threw them in his car and brought them back. They need all sizes. I can’t tell you how many people asked for the newborn size which broke my heart. People asked for all sizes though.

2. Wipes. For the same reason as above, but they need more wipes because I am sure they are serving double duty. To wipe babies’ bottoms, but to also clean adults.

3. Batteries! All kinds. We had very few and they needed them. Including a man who used a device to speak through his throat and was worried that the battery which operated his device was going to die soon. I didn’t have a nine volt to give him. They also need batteries for flashlights and radios, and I’m guessing some elderly folks would need hearing aid and other specialty batteries.

4. Flashlights! Many asked for those and we had very few.

5. Tampons!!!

6. All kinds of toiletries.

7. Toys, coloring books, crayons, and fun stuff for kids. We ran out of toys quickly and towards the end, a five year old little boy asked me if we had any toys (for him) or diapers (for his younger sibling) and I had to say no. Talk about a knife in the heart!

8. Juice boxes, healthy snacks, baby food…..

9. Water.

Here is the deal. We need to organize another Inwood Caravan. But, we need to organize the items more effectively next time. Buying in bulk is great and cost effective for us, but not so much for those in need.


By the way, for more details on how Rockaway residents are doing, check out this article in Global Grind.

26 thoughts on “Dispatch from a #sandy volunteer in the Rockaways

  1. I have heard from multiple sources repeatedly that WARM WINTER clothing is needed. Not as you say, none. Especially with temperatures falling to below freezing. Gloves, hats, thick coats. What would you say to that?

    About being turned away from Breezy Point? Someone I know out there was directed across the Marine Park Bridge to the shopping center just after the private gate by firefighters, where they said organized collecting was going on. Also at the church Do you mean you attempted to go further west from that point?

    And geez WTF is up with calling people who went out there to help hipsters? Who gives a damn at this point?

    What kind of organization is needed, and where do you think is ideal to setup for it?

    1. Hi Broomburger. I didn’t write this as I said. Was sharing info from a fellow Northern Manhattan resident who did the drop off for us.

      I think gloves and hats would be OK, but people were not taking the bags and bags of regular clothes since there is no place to lay them out or hang them up for people to loon through.

      Re: the hipster comment. Remember you can’t detect tone in the written word. Doubt she meant it as an insult. She was just saying that these young folks on road bikes aren’t going to be able to lug Hefty bags if clothes to other sites.

      I’m going to post another Rockaway dispatch from someone else, who is asking for gloves. She also experienced disorganization. 😦 Wish I had the solution for that.

      Thanks for your comment!

      1. Here’s that other take on the Rockaways, for those interested:
        This was written by Merryl Sterritt on Facebook: The Rockaways on November 3, 2012:

        Today I went to the Rockaways with a car full of donations and what I experienced was beyond belief. I drove from JFK to Belle Harbor and the destruction far surpasses anything I was capable of imagining. Here is a collection of thoughts about the day that I hope will help with the relief effort.

        • People need WORK GLOVES. They WANT to work, but it is very difficult without any resources. Most in demand are work gloves, heavy duty garbage bags, warm jackets, gloves and hats.
        • There is NO Red Cross or FEMA assistance at this time. I drove about 6 of the 10 miles into the island, and I did not see any FEMA aid whatsoever. I saw 1 Red Cross mini-truck; that is all. There were not any signs for Red Cross shelters or assistance of any kind.
        • There is ZERO power, heat, phones, internet, water or cell service. Rockaway is truly cut off from the rest of the world, and have no means of communication. Because there are no phones, there is a huge lack of organization. People don’t know where to go for resources so most people are wandering the neighborhoods looking for what they need.
        • Don’t go at night. The area is pitch black at night and people are (understandably) extremely paranoid. There are signs everywhere warning that “we will shoot first, ask questions later.” Many people armed. Help as much as possible during daylight hours, and then leave the area.

        Things I didn’t realize until I got there:
        • It is FREEZING! I didn’t realize how much colder it would be out there because it is right on the water. It is super windy and much feels much colder than in Westchester.
        • The scope of this damage is immense. I had no idea how large this area is. In my mind, I thought there would be several hundred homes. There are thousands and thousands of people on the streets, in need. 10.6 miles of land from end to end, with everything in sight damaged.
        • Most of the things ruined were on the first floor. Things on the second floor are more salvageable. People were not AS in need of things that would be in the bedroom and bathroom. Most needed are things that would have been in the basement and living room. For example, I brought soap, washcloths, toothpaste and toothbrushes which were not in severe demand by homeowners. However, these things are in demand by people who were previously homeless or in distress before the hurricane.
        • People are working hard all day, sweating, dirty, exhausted, but then cannot shower afterwards. They are washing by using a cold bottle of water and a washcloth. They are 5 days in.

        The unexpected:
        • “Organized” distribution sites don’t exist. The 2 areas I saw set-up were overflowing with goods, but most people didn’t know about them so there was no way to get the goods out. The best way to distribute items was to drive around the streets offering what we had to individuals.
        • People have a small supply of diapers, but no baby wipes. If you are bringing diapers, bring wipes as well, or even just wipes alone.
        • Currently, people seem to have canned goods, sandwiches and water. They also have basic clothing. There are many tee-shirts and boxes of clothing strewn throughout the streets, untaken. What is needed is WARM clothing: long sleeves, jackets, gloves, hats, blankets.

        Where to go:
        • B29 had a large gathering of people who would take ANYTHING- I think they had little to nothing to begin with, before the storm.
        • I heard from several sources that B59 had a distribution center, but could not find it.
        • B129 has a functioning indoor shelter and distribution center, but they are currently stocked.
        • Most successful was to drive up and down streets distributing goods to individuals.

        Items Needed:
        • Work Gloves
        • Heavy Duty Garbage Bags
        • Flashlights, C and D Batteries
        • Sweatshirts and Jackets
        • Underwear
        • Diapers and Wipes
        • Blankets
        • Towels
        • Tampons
        • HOT food

    2. Dear BroomBurger,

      I have nothing against hipsters or bicyclists. In fact, it was amazing to see so many on bikes helping out there, while I was in the comfort of a Uhaul truck one day and a car the next (it was just a cheeky turn of phrase, and I meant no harm). My post was also meant for my fb page, and an Inwood Community fb page, and I had no idea that it would end up on this blog. We were turned away from Breezy. Things change out there on a dime. And if you read my whole post, I wasn’t exactly calling for No, More Clothes, but rather noticing that several places were overwhelmed and had stopped accepting. When I went back yesterday, people still needed warm things for sure. I think the Salvation Army stepped into to help with the organization piece. I hope this helps.


      Mary Kate

  2. Susan Kelly

    I live in Woodhaven, Queens. I have batteries, D’s & AAA’s, a bag of canned soup, tuna, sardines, feminine products, toothbrushes, three camp chairs, one camp cot (breaks down to a shoulder bag). I am conserving my gas, but would be willing to meet someone on the way out to the Rockaways. I live near Woodhaven Blvd. Willing to drive to a location on your route.

  3. Amanda

    Hi! We just went to Rockaway and had the same experience!! They were in overload. Please bring those items and no more clothes! People are really coming together out there, but really need every bit of help!

  4. S

    Hi there, I know rock away was hit pretty hard since I live there! If you need a. Hand let us know where you will be. Right now we’re asking folks for resources so…contact is scarce. But call 7184739819. My name is sister S.

  5. Hi Guys!
    I am interested in getting connected with organizatons that have been helpin in Rockaway. I am working with Architecture for Humanity and we would love to be involved a little ore but need to know who have been helping and what are the names of this organizations, if any. Can anyone help? Thanks!

    1. I want to believe that she didn’t mean literal “SHIT” and instead has an old school, Queens, way of talking. She helped them get to where the stuff was needed so … but thanks for your comment!

    2. Dear Gemma,
      She definitely did not mean shit. She was overwhelmed by the fortune of us finding each other. To hell with them and let her freeze to death? Have you been out to the Rockaways? What have you done to help in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy? I went back yesterday. Here is my report. This woman who you think should freeze to death is an angel. You on the other hand….

      Dear Friends,

      Here is a little update on Inwood Caravan Part 2:

      Jamie and I decided this morning after the devastation and desperation we witnessed yesterday in the Rockaways to make another run today. I posted a very last minute call for some of the high need items we assessed yesterday. We got several donations, and then Melissa and I went to the 99 cent store and stocked up on diapers, maxi pads, and batteries. The 99 cent store on 207th Street next to McDonalds has been awesome by the way, and has given me $20 off every time that I have shopped there in bulk! Go shop there! We loaded up two cars with four other resident volunteers and drove down to the Costco/Target complex on 116th Street off of the FDR. We split up and hit Costco and Target. Melissa and I stocked up on baby wipes, and kid stuff. We bought sidewalk chalk, matchbox cars in sets (to potentially be divvied up just in case), coloring books, crayons, and three Mr. Potato Heads. Jamie stocked up on bread, pb and j, granola/kashi bars, water, snacks, cookies, more diapers and wipes, and other assorted items. There were NO flashlights to be found!!!! (PS. We used funds from the money we raised yesterday).
      And we were off….
      It’s kind of surreal as you get close to Broad Channel (pics to be posted soon, although I am sure you have seen a lot of the devastation on the news). An eight-year-old little girl in pj bottoms and Uggs, lugging a massive box of diapers down the block. The water logged and broken contents of people’s homes piling up on the curb. The looks on people’s faces. I realized, as we were getting closer that we better make a pee run, either at the National Guard station, which had porto-potties, or at the one and only store I noticed with a generator. We opted for the store. We walked in and I found the owner and asked to use the restroom. He walked me to the back and showed me where the key was. A couple of us bought a few things. There were a lot of empty shelves, but it was a cute gourmet grocery store with lots of yummy looking food. As we were leaving the older owner who had showed me the way to the loo, stopped Melissa and asked if I needed anything. If I needed anything?!?!?!?! That was cool, but kind of humbling. Melissa also overheard a woman say, “I just want to wash and blow dry my hair!” Not in a whiny way, but in a how has this become my life kinda way.
      We continue on. Cell service is beyond spotty out there. Jamie had not been able to get a hold of Ify. We pulled onto our block. Yes, it is our block now. Beach 66th Street. More on how it’s our block later.
      A couple of folks came out and we asked for Ify. We started knocking on doors. Her husband, James, said that she was floating around the neighborhood. If you didn’t get the sense about Ify from yesterday’s post, I just have to reiterate how freaking AMAZING this woman is. First off, she has a cool name. Secondly, she is a whippersnapper and there is nothing iffy about her! We started unloading and organizing. Diapers over hear. Let’s keep the food in the car as well as the batteries and kids items, etc…
      Then Ify rolled in. I spotted her a block away. “Ify!” I yelled. “You’re back!” she bellowed. Folks, this is kinda a sappy, indeed, but we literally ran to each other and hugged. We showed her what we had and sent her on her way to go spread the word that we were there. I asked her to find the Indian man with the tracheotomy device because I had a slew of nine volts. (She never found him, but I left a bunch with her and she promised that she would). Nine volts, I also found, come in handy for carbon monoxide detectors and certain radios.
      People started trickling in, but it was NOTHING like yesterday. We waited around with our stuff for quite a while, and there are a few reasons why there were less people today. Reason #1: People are worried about getting to work tomorrow morning and many started that journey today, perhaps to stay at a friend’s or relative’s place, that has access to transportation. Yes there are busses running out there, but it is still a war zone. Reason #2: People really, really, need a break. I spoke with one woman on the block, who was worried about her husband who had fallen into this state of near delirium, and had commenced just sitting and staring. She shipped him off to Brooklyn to stay with family and was probably going to be doing the same sometime soon.
      And then there were the kids. Not many on our block, but a few did drop by. When I saw the first, three brothers 5, 7 and maybe 9, I said, “You guys come with me,” and took them to the trunk of Melissa’s car. I broke out the coloring books and matchbox cars and they flipped out. I opened up the five pack of the cars and gave the youngest first choice. He liked that. This is where we are, people. Small children are flipping out over one stinking little car and a coloring book. In New York City. They are flipping out over sidewalk chalk too! The three brothers had some at home, so we decided that I would hold onto my limited supply for kids who didn’t. I had a third grader, Kimo, who, when I brought him over to the trunk of the car, and pulled out a five pack of the matchbox cars, reacted as though it was Christmas morning. I gave him the whole pack.

      People were also super excited about the batteries. “Oh my God! I can listen to some music tonight!” was one comment I heard. I also spoke with Steve, and we joked about how he had to break out the old boom box. I gave him a bunch of Ds.

      Trust me. I could ramble on with these special moments. There are so many that I have lost count. But, it is getting late, and I came home to a sign in the lobby that the boiler is busted and there will be no heat or hot water in my building tonight. Trust me, I am not complaining, but will likely head over to mom’s for a shower in a bit.

      Let’s get to next steps. I have not yet set up a paypal account for all of you who have asked to help out. Jamie posted one on the Inwood Community Facebook page. I kind of like the idea of setting up my own, so that I can track and thank friends who donate from my personal facebook page (and then funnel it into the Jaime/Good Shepherd fund). I will try to get this sorted after school tomorrow. Yes there are plenty of other places where you can donate, and for those organizations and grass roots efforts that are up and running, I encourage you all to donate to them.

      Jamie and I have decided that going forward, we are aligning ourselves with Beach 66th street and the surrounding blocks. We have connected with these people, we have communication open, phone numbers, access, etc… This is going to be a long haul. Yesterday, I desperately pleaded for some basic essentials. I am hesitant to keep that ball rolling. I am obviously not the only one who has been posting away on facebook. The state came in today, as did a lot more help from civilians. Today we saw a cherry picker on our block. This was very promising. Or at least I hope it is. When you drive through this place, you can’t fathom when power will be turned on. But today, a cherry picker and two vans. Local residents said that they were hearing three days. If that is the case, the game changes. Flashlights and batteries are no longer that important.
      Jamie and I are committing ourselves and all who would like to join our bandwagon to Operation Get Beach 66th Street Back on Their Feet. They are going to need our help for a while. Today I was asked for a lot of things that I didn’t have. Today was also different than yesterday. I won’t say that today was less desperate, but calmer. They are going to need help cleaning up and rebuilding. Think about all that they will need to make this happen. Think about Thanksgiving. Think about Christmas. Think about people who still have water in their houses. Think about the wife’s husband who was sitting and staring. Think about the psychological impact on children. Think about no more libraries. (I can go on with the think abouts, trust me, but it is getting late).
      Many of you are reposting my posts. That is AWESOME! Thank you Megan in Williamsburg for reposting, setting up a paypal account, raising funds, buying stuff, and commandeering SUVs heading to Far Rockaway to take your stuff to those in need. You are AMAZING. Thank you to everyone else who has helped and offered to help. There are too many of you to name right now. Please forward my posts to everyone you know. Mind you, tomorrow is Monday, and I am back to school with the kiddies. I will have less time to respond. I am now juggling my own facebook account, the Inwood Community Facebook page, a few emails, and I am talking to every local resident I see. I am also hacking my mom’s email and messaging the Inwood Kids listserve to get the word out. On this front, I would kindly ask anyone on the Inwood Kids listserve who would like to stay in the loop with what we are doing/working on to please make sure that they are on the Inwood Community Facebook page. I don’t think that I can juggle the listserve at the moment. I am also whipping out my phone and making people look at my posts and picture. (PS. Pictures are coming soon).
      I think that’s it for now. I take comfort in hearing that a school near our block got a generator today and that it will be set up as a warming station. One woman Melissa met, was looking forward to sleeping there tonight. I’m committing myself to Operation Get 66th Street Back on Their Feet. I hope that you are too.

      PS. I must stress, that I am not doing what I’m doing to get your accolades. Really. They are lovely of course, but I don’t need them. I need your help.

    1. Hi there. I’m not sure how you can send supplies, but in the comments above, there is a link to how you can donate to a Paypal account. If I hear of a way you can mail supplies to, I’ll post it here! Thanks.

  6. Lestrella

    I was there yesterday as well but confined to Bayswater and East of Wavecrest areas to clean out family home and found the same. No traffic lights working, people roaming the streets looking for open stores. I called 101 pct and was told the distribution center was at Aqueduct Racetrack! Not easy to get to if you live in Wavecrest and don’t have a car anymore and if you do there are NO open gas stations. They are shut off from the world and there is NO news coverage.
    Bayswater area doing better, but again people are isolated and one can’t wonder onto Mott Ave. as it is just not safe. Many is Bayswater with cars lost them in 3-4 feet of water submerge on. The cops are in their cars at intersections but no one is manning traffic.
    I went to St Mary Star of the Sea on Beach 19th Street. They are accepting donations and they were a bit organized. People need batteries and diapers, wipes, tampons, water, formula, Warm coats, hats and gloves, I had down 3 coats and by the time I reached my car from the rectory I saw 2 women wearing my coats.
    The people living in buildings really need batteries and flashlights as the buildings are PITCH BLACK even in daylight!
    In general it’s very unorganized, but if items can be dropped off at accepting churches, community centers, synagogues people can have access to things within walking distance.
    St Mary Start of the Sea – Beach 19th Street.
    There is a synagogue in Bayswater on Healy Ave off Dickens Street.

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