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.

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