November 10th, 2012
Cobi and I spent our morning purchasing things to donate to people who had been affected by Hurricane Sandy. While the canned food and batteries were compelling, the chill in the air drove me toward the clothing aisle. I stocked up on thick socks, gloves, hats and scarves in children and adult sizes, filling my small green shopping cart with the intention of keeping people warm.
It took us over an hour to reach Brooklyn from the shopping stop in West Orange, New Jersey. We finally made it to one of the Occupy Sandy hubs, St. Jacobi Church in Brooklyn's Sunset Park. There were vehicles (everything from compact cars to big trucks) down the block, double parked in front of St. Jacobi, and an organized swarm of volunteers hustling in donations by the trunk-load. I was really anxious by the time we arrived at 2:30 that we'd be turned away as volunteers, but I knew before I'd made it through the door before that we were right on time.
We had a brief orientation, learned the community guidelines, and were encouraged to talk to people.... to talk about community, about our emotional responses, about climate change, about loss, about hope.
Then we were asked to go into the basement and start helping. Latin music was playing on an old radio boom box and true to Brooklyn, true to a real humanity, there were people of every group there to give support. Some people worked quietly, and some chatted excitedly. Sometimes the radio dial would get rolled to a pop or hip hop station, and inevitably tuned back again to salsa and bachata... I wasn't the only one wiggling while I worked.
My first task was sorting ramen and other noodle soups of the "just add water" variety. I must have handled 100's of packages of noodles before I had them neatly organized. Apparently the day before we'd arrived there was floor-to-ceiling food in no particular order and people had been working very hard to get things sorted. It was clear a lot of sorting had been done already and still, there was much more to do as the donations kept on coming.
Occasionally I'd look up from my work to see if Cobi was nearby, and would delight in seeing him helping move along the box brigade or sort through piles of fresh produce.
Ah, the veggie pile made me happiest! There was a cooking crew who made and trucked hot meals out to folks with no way of heating food, and it was reassuring to see that farms and food businesses were bringing in donations of fresh produce, meat, baked goods, and dairy.
One of the piles Cobi and I sorted together was a mix of nice fresh breads from a bakery and sliced grocery store bread. The smell was more comforting than usual, knowing that it might bring a sense of normalcy to people experiencing total upheaval.
We continued to sort for several hours. We mostly stuck to food items, but the stacks piles of cleaning supplies, baby supplies, toiletries, batteries, generators, shovels, blankets, and clothing was so overwhelming no one photo of the space could have ever done it justice.
For the final hour of our four-hour stint at St. Jacobi Church, there was a buzz about a truck coming in from Maryland with over 100 boxes. Cobi and I decided to continue helping until the truck rolled in and was totally unloaded.
Finally it came and the degree to which a community in Maryland was helping people in New York and New Jersey was awesome, incredible, and humbling.
The photo here shows what I could see from my place in the line, not far from the basement door. Large packs of toilet paper and paper towels were being thrown when I took this photo... can you see the paper towels flying through the air?
There were so many boxes, all well labeled, being passed along the line, which was likely over 30 people long. We passed donations between us- generation to generation, Español a English, hipster to jock, computer programer to day laborer, homemaker to high school student. Person to person. Caregiver to caregiver. In solidarity. In love. In knowing that a better world IS possible when we come together.
Peace through togetherness,
How to help: