Yesterday a grassroots effort to get help to the battered Rockaways area began, started by the Halstead Real Estate office in Brooklyn Heights. During the day, dropoff boxes were placed in front of their office on Montegue St and donations were collected from local residents. The response was amazing, and will continue today and this week. We took two cars to manage a drop off last night, and my account follows:
We had a successful first drop in the Rockaways today with supplies from the generosity of Brooklyn Heights residents! We drove out in 2 cars filled with supplies. We drove in using the Cross Bay Bridge. They are actually still charging $3.25 each way to get into and out of the Rockaways which have no power or services of any kind – even the toll collectors thought it was stupid (UPDATE: this was changed within a week so now it’s free). Once you hit the area past Howard Beach, it goes completely dark. Things look very different and spooky when there are no lights.
After getting over the bridge, it was completely dark. There are few people on the roads, and that’s probably good. It just doesn’t feel safe walking around at night with so little light. A few large street lights are powered by generators, and in some cases people have congregated there I assume just to try and exchange information. Some small children played nearby one of the lights on 116th. There is destruction everywhere and abandoned vehicles. As you get closer to the beach, sand is everywhere in drifts. In fact, we saw a police van stuck in the sand that eventually got pushed out by a crew of policeman. Through some web posts and Twitter we found that there was an OccupySandy distribution hub still up and running at 113th and Rockaway ave. and we drove there. It turned out to be the only Hub still open because it has a generator and lights. Just across the street, it looked like a bomb went off – sort of a post-apocalyptic scene with homes ripped apart and sand everywhere. We ran into a film crew that my co-pilot David Costelloe knew who said that this occupy sandy group had been coordinating with local police to make escorted drop offs during the day to families in need. They had a hot food station set up and we saw a number of people come to get food even as it was getting late. It seemed to be a small oasis of comfort in a very bleak landscape.
What we learned: Distributions are much easier during the day before 5pm when most centers are open, so we want to leave by 2:30pm latest Sunday. Right now, the consensus is that they do not need more clothes there, except hats, gloves, and blankets. They need baby supplies, especially diapers and baby food. Batteries (especially D), flashlights, cleaning supplies, work gloves, mops, water, food etc. I saw no one from Red Cross or FEMA but police were there and accepting donations at the precinct. Tomorrow we will go back and hit some of the hubs that are most needy for supplies. Everyone there was so appreciative and the folks we met both donating and collecting donations were all in great spirits. They were happy to know we were coming back with more.