Unless you’ve been asleep for a week, you know the major damage Hurricane Sandy has done. And, if you’ve been off work and trapped in the borough like many Brooklynites, you’ve probably been looking for opportunities to help. We published a list of ways to get involved by donating and volunteering, and it’s amazing what a huge feedback we have received.  On Friday I volunteered with a group of eager young Brooklynites from the mostly-untouched Williamsburg/Bushwick/Park Slope areas who simply wanted to help as much as possible. 

After gathering an astonishing amount of goods in a one-day donation drive, almost 50 people showed up at relief headquarters and neighborhood haunt The Drink to make 1000+ sandwiches, snacks, and organize goods at 8 am. From there, we set off in 6+ cars to the Canarsie neighborhood that was hit hard and remains mostly without power.

Once we reconvened at a set of huge buildings in Canarsie, we set to work communicating with the Russian volunteers and community members who were already organizing aid. We sorted our goods into “emergency packs”- bags including water, canned and non-perishable goods, toilet paper, toiletries, and assorted other goods.

Our next priority was to find out who was still living in the neighboring buildings. These massive complexes, 23 stories high and lined up like century-old giants right along Ocean Parkway, had been evaculated leading up to the storm. Many residents, especially elderlies, chose to stay, without another safe place to relocate to, or physically unable to leave.

We began by combing through the pitch-black powerless buildings in small teams, knocking on each door, calling out that we had food, water, and help. We were told to call out the Russian words for food and water, as many residents spoke no English at all. We were also told to speak clearly, gently, and helpfully because many people inside were afraid of opening their doors in fear of being looted or robbed. Most residents we came across were scared and lonely but extremely grateful for our help. We wrote down specific requests for goods and sent teams to gather exactly what they had asked for.

Upon returning we we handed out our most requested items- canned food, toilet paper, candles, flashlights, sandwiches, and “as much water as possible.” Many apartments were dark and would only become darker as night wore on, so we provided extra candles. We were thanked with kind words, many in Russian, kisses, and even tears. Many of these people, some appearing in their late 80s, were physically unable to leave their apartments to walk up or down stairs, and had already run out of their Hurricane provisions.

It was wonderful to be able to help these people in need, as we passed the information of who was remaining in the building on to the community volunteers who will hopefully followup with more food and provisions. These buildings are expected to remain without power for up to two weeks.

The mission was a good example of DIY volunteering. You can make a difference without all of the “red tape” that comes along with The Red Cross’ specific volunteer programming. If you can organize cars, friends, and donations, you can make a difference in one of the many areas that need help. See our updated list for ways to help.