It’s been nothing short of heartwarming to see all the volunteers who have helped out day in and day out in Hurricane Sandy relief efforts. Every weekend brings a new crop of ordinary citizens out to Brooklyn, the Rockaways, Staten Island, New Jersey, and Long Island ready to pitch in wherever and however they can.
In New York City, the Mayor’s Office recently released some numbers of supplies that were delivered just last week. To get an idea of just how much is still needed, check out these numbers.
From Thursday, November 1 through Thursday, November 7 they have distributed:
More than 1.8 million meals
Nearly 454,000 bottles of water
1,248 cases of diapers
183 cases of baby wipes
670 cases of baby formula
8,500 units of new underwear (kids and adults)
3,840 thermal blankets
1,552 winter hats
6,252 D batteries
9,972 C batteries
335 cases of garbage bags
476 cases of toilet paper
837 cases of bleach
20,000 cases of Ziploc bags
10,000 boxes of cleaning wipes
1,500 work gloves
878 bars of soap
140 cases of toothbrushes
750 units of toothpaste
584 bath towels
They have also distributed 1,500 electric space heaters to people in Broad Channel and the Rockaways who have had their power restored but do not yet have heat in their homes.
However, many, many people still have no power.
Distribution sites have been set up in the hardest-hit areas of the city. Food, water, blankets, baby formula, diapers, batteries and other supplies are available at all sites which are staffed by NYC Service volunteers, as well as the Salvation Army and the National Guard.
The office promises to keep them operational for as long as is needed, and no one who shows up for food and water will be turned away. Each person can take three meals and five bottles of water at these sites. Local food trucks are giving away free hot meals at sites in the hardest-hit areas in a partnership arranged by the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City. Under this alliance, in my neighborhood and in every other devastated neighborhood in NYC celebrity chef and author of the Now Eat This! series Rocco DiSpirito has delivered food. Everyday in the news, there more famous people from Justin Timberlake to Rihanna showing up at volunteer sites to donate their time. There are literally countless of everyday citizens who just show up at these sites, ask how they can help, and then get to work. Many shelters are saying that they have been so inundated with clothes, they have no where to store them and what they still really need is cleaning supplies, toilet paper, and disposable gloves.
And even despite all these efforts, more is still needed.
Some have criticized the Red Cross, saying that their efforts have been lackluster. In my neighborhood, “they had praise for the police and fire departments, but several asked pointedly where the Red Cross and FEMA were, despite occasional reported sightings.” But the Red Cross says their work post-Sandy has been “flawless,” and maintain they have raised $117 million as of November 9. To be fair, they have sheltered 3,700 people and delivered more than 4.8 million meals or snacks.
One of the challenges seems to be coordination and communication. Even with FEMA workers, there seems to be confusion over which neighborhoods were affected. Strollerderby’s own Carolyn Castiglia says she ran into “FEMA workers in Sunset Park hoping to find residents with water damage in a completely industrial area. They were all from the South, know nothing about NYC and were not given evacuation zone maps or clearly any briefing or effective instructions at all.” Surely, those four workers could have been better put to use helping victims bail out their homes or by handing out food. Many of the FEMA workers are from other parts of the country and don’t have a working knowledge of New York City, but were blindly told to canvass an area that might not even need canvassing. That is not their fault, of course, but a reflection on the management of the given agency.
The FEMA representatives who came to our house were battling things such as driving in congested New York, and seemed weary from sleeping in shelters and visiting places that still had exposed power lines and looting.
No one was ready for this disaster or ready to accommodate the mass destruction it caused, and while I think (and thank) the countless volunteers from all agencies and those ordinary citizens, I wonder if this disorganized effort will cause the larger government agencies to fine-tune their future disaster response.
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