Thursday, November 8, 2012

What volunteering *really* looks like (and how you can too)

I received quite a response from my last blog post; apparently people were touched by it.  And while I was touched by the people who applauded me for my efforts, I care less about the accolades than about the people who asked how they could chip in too.  After spending another day out in the field today, I wanted to share some of my experience, and the wide array of opportunities there are out there to help.  You do NOT have to climb 67 flights of stairs to help people.  You don't even have to lift heavy things.  No matter who you are or what you do, there is something you can do to help, I promise you.

Today I spent 5 hours at one of Occupy Sandy's two main hubs volunteer/distribution hubs (520 Clinton Ave in Brooklyn).  I arrived at 9:30; I had to leave by 2:30 to get back to teach.  Even though I didn't have all day, I figured there must be *something* I could do to help for a few hours.  There sure was.  Here is just a sampling of the opportunities available: 

communication jobs (can be done sitting down):

- be part of the communications team taking calls from people in the field about what is needed and where, and feeding the information to the dispatch team (bring your laptop and cellphone)

- be part of the dispatch team, sending drivers and volunteers out with supplies to those in need (bring your laptop)

- welcome new volunteers, find out their skill set/interests, and direct them to where help is most needed

This is but a *tiny* portion of one
UPS delivery that was received just today.

organizing/sorting stuff jobs (requires some physical exertion):

- help unload boxes* from the UPS truck -- assembly line style

- open, unpack, and/or break down those boxes*

- sort the contents of the boxes* into their designated aisles

The boxes* after they have been organized
* There are literally thousands of boxes coming into the center every day from the Amazon "wedding registry" set up by Occupy Sandy, ordered by generous souls all over the globe.  So if anyone had doubts about those boxes ending up in the right hands, I have witnessed that they are. 

- load up cars and trucks that a taking those supplies out to the people who need them

- fill shopping bags for people who have come in person needing donations

be out in the hard-hit neighborhoods jobs

- if you have a car, you can drive other volunteers and supplies out to those who need them

- even if you don't have a car, you can be a volunteer who gets driven to a location to deliver supplies

- be part of a team canvassing a neighborhood to find out what people need and report back, so that other folks can be sent out with specifically requested supplies

food jobs

- if you like to cook (or just to be around food), you can work in the kitchen, preparing and packing up some of the 20,000 hot meals the kitchen might prepare in a day to be delivered to people who haven't had hot food in over a week

- even if you can't stay, you can be like one person I saw and bring over a pot of homemade pasta to help feed the volunteers lunch (and I enjoyed her pasta very much!)

In short, even if being outside all day is not appealing; or if knocking on strangers' doors is intimidating; or if climbing endless flights of stairs is not in your exercise profile; or if you only have a couple of hours to spare:  THERE IS SOMETHING YOU CAN DO.  

Go to 520 Clinton Ave.  It is half a block from a C train stop.  Lend an hour, lend two, lend five, lend ten.  Get your exercise in carrying boxes, or exercise your spreadsheet skills dispatching volunteers.  I met people who took a half day off work, people who stopped in on their way to work, people who had the day off.  Come on the weekend.  Come when you can.  Just COME.   I have never felt more hopeful about the future of the human race than I did today.  You owe it to yourself. You owe it to the people devastated by Sandy.  JUST DO IT.

And if you don't live near NYC, you can contribute to another day's UPS shipment here.  Or just send them money, they need that too.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Hurricane tragedy pulls focus

Hurricane Sandy and the devastation it has wrought on New York and surrounding areas has left me mentally and emotionally paralyzed this week.  I haven't been able to focus on any work outside of listening to the news and trying to figure out ways to help.  I postponed a class I was teaching, I haven't worked on my play or my acting class scene, I haven't posted on here.  While certainly all of this trauma and all of the horrible and beautiful things I have scene are good potential creativity fodder, my heart isn't in it -- it is solidly lodged up in my throat and I imagine will stay there for some time.

On Friday morning, I delivered three bags of groceries to someone who was delivering donations out to the Rockaways in Queens -- one of the most devastated areas from the storm (if you saw the pictures of Queens on fire, that was the Rockaways).  On Friday afternoon, between students, I rode my bike down to the Lower East Side of Manhattan (the only way to get there with the power still out in Lower Manhattan) with all the batteries, flashlights and non-perishable food I could fit in my backpack and dropped it off to people who were delivering it to those stranded in buildings with no power or water.  I wanted to stay and help, but had to get back to teach.  But on Saturday, I was able to help -- I rode my bike down again (at only 48 degrees out, it was a chilly ride) and spent the afternoon hiking up to the top floors of two 37 story buildings that still don't have power (even though most of Manhattan is back up).  I met disabled people and seniors who can't possibly get down the stairs (let alone back up again), whose supplies are dwindling and who must spend 12+ hours alone in complete darkness and silence every night.  The cold and the dark were their biggest fears, more than food or water.  Volunteers like us could bring them food and water, but we couldn't bring them heat or light.

I wanted to go out to the Rockaways myself today, but have to teach a class this afternoon.  I am filled with guilt and despair -- temperatures are dropping to freezing now at night and it may be weeks before some of these people have power.  I am hoping to clear one of my teaching days midweek to go out there -- I imagine there will be fewer people who can make it out during the week.

Please, wherever you are, if you are reading this, donate whatever you can whether it be time, money or goods to help these relief efforts.   For a comprehensive list of places to donate/volunteer, please visit the Occupy Sandy relief page.  You can even mail supplies in if you'd rather mail stuff than money! (while the Red Cross doesn't take donations of supplies, other groups do).

Want to mail in supplies?

Send it here ...
The Church of St. Luke and St. Matthew
520 Clinton Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11238

Needs List (not clothing at this point):
- blankets
- batteries (Cs and Ds)
- flashlights
- candles and matches
- non-perishable food
- bottled water
- diapers