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Sandy approached. I wondered what we’d do if Providence lost power. I called our electrician, found out it’d take a pretty large generator to keep the grocery store running. We looked into it. I went the next day to perhaps buy one at Home Depot. They were sold out. Had sold an entire new shipment again since that morning. I went to Benny’s and got some batteries and water. Borrowed six by water jugs to fill with water and put in our walk-in. So if power goes out, at least they’ll stay cold for a while!
Chrissy also got bunches of supplies: candles, great LED flashlights and bungees, so we got all that stuff close to home at the grocery. Sunday was a busy day, everyone getting prepared up the whole east coast. I heard the shop was slamming. Monday I was asked to help prep Into the Wardrobe, the rain coming down, winds windy; protecting the windows in Fox Point with a mer-ka-ba. Moving the moichandise back from the front, moving the nicest things up off the floor. It got windy, and I got to making food at home, my wife Nina keeping the store open, each time she almost closed someone would call “are you still open? O.K. I’ll be there in ten minutes!!” The grocery was open until about 6pm that night. The storm turned away from us, and Providence was safe.
We saw pictures from Block Island. I saw an exploding transformer on video in New York. The eeriest shot was a still from a subway surveillance camera, showing water rushing in to fill the subterranean caverns, time-stamped about 20 minutes before.
We listened, we watched, we thought of the people. As a nearby grocery store, we began collecting cash to buy wholesale produce and stuff, that can be sent for just the price of a tank of gas. I went to Block Island to offer carpentry/debris help there. The westward beaches are fuullll of plastic washing up from New York…. We spent almost 2 hours picking trash and covered about 40 feet of beach-coast… The entire island lost about 15 feet of dune, all the beaches wider. There were loads of cactus washed up, all over the place…
I started contacting New York, through a chef I met at the Eastern Conference for Workplace Democracy. We had spoke about foods and the original Occupy Wall St. kitchen. Also about generating agriculture/food based economies. I found his card in the “mug with all the cards” and began to make contact. Through email, he got me some early needs lists and gave me the address at 520 Clinton Avenue.
Meanwhile, Libertalia organized collections as well, using their space and our store as drop off points, following lists from the other primary Occupy Sandy location, St. Jacobi. This was perfect as it allowed us to focus on food, and for Providence to send what turned-out to be a very well balanced blend of the location needs.
The week went by, and when we counted our collection, it was $100 exactly, with some extra coins. I wrote to Henry Wainer, of Sid Wainer & Son, to ask if they’d consider sending us some extra food to bring, and he agreed to cover half the order I proposed to him. We brought: 100 # potatoes, 50# carrots, 50# Spanish onions, 25# red onions, bushel butternut squash, bushel Tuscan kale, 88 oranges, and 4 gallons of orange juice. Thanks Sid Wainer & Son and thanks everyone who contributed in the jar!!
Andy worked Friday morning, then we left after noon with his sedan completely stuffed with all that vegetable, along with five or six big bags of clothes and supplies. Only room left was for us a jacket and 2 Yacht Club Sarsaparillas. Khym threw down for gas and tolls ($14.75 in tolls!) and after We Gas we hit the road, lambasted by a route 10 onramp detour (blast!).
If you know either of us, you can imagine a non-stop talk-fest. We even had time for some comparative time-lines, how did our life lead to here? Friendships widen.
We made a first drop off at St. Jacobi's Church, which is the largest distro center for the Occupy Sandy folk, and the destination for all the gear collected by Libertalia. Andy jumped out and took the train to Manhattan for his comedy show. It's a big church, bags coming in quickly, things for free outside and inside. All kinds of supplies being organized and sorted by a fairly massive volunteer presence of primarily young people. I left them two gallons of that fresh squeeze OJ and took off, under time constraint to get to the other kitchen.
Drove up to 520 Clinton Ave, (after a brief stop at 520 Clinton St., luckily not too far out of the way... avoiding right lane traffics lining up for a gas station) the St Luke & Matthew church. This is where the Chef connect has been working in the kitchen. While Jacobi is a bigger operation, I feel 520 Clinton was better organized, and felt more alive. (When I came in, a shout immediately got 4 folks to help carry the loads of vegetable down to the kitchen.) We arranged all of it in the small room where they store produce (there are signs all over the place labeling where everything should be). The produce we brought looked AMZAING in compare to what they had around. Those onions look really good, and the carrots robust, etcetera.
The crew there settled into a end-day meeting, I listened a bit and ate, then checked in upstairs,
The entire church sanctuary is filled with donated supplies. Pews are labeled with signs: canned goods, cleaning supplies, blankets, jackets, medicine, pet food, lighting, with the seats stacked with goods and boxes labeled with sharpie to their specific contents. It's jam packed. There was a tower of mini-fridges, as well as various coolers (all brand new), an enormous mound of boxes of diapers. A mound of blankets. I went up to the balcony to take it in. I felt shy and quiet.
We broke down loads of cardboard and trash in to another giant pile streetside, hopefully NYC does pick up recycling at that spot as the sign proclaims. Organizing, moving things, storing foods, things coming in, folks coming to bring stuff out. A lady came in a u-haul with a very demanding attitude- already had her order filled (volunteers picked all the items she requested, put into boxes that were for her truck) and she stayed about an hour to continue asking for more things, more things, more things. The sign outside painted “Mutual Aid Not Charity”. To me that also means, we aren’t your long-suffering nuns right now, we are people, and we can help you, but please recognize that’s our choice and not our moral chain. It's amazing how far the distance some people are from basic respect. We all brushed it off and gave her what could.
Downstairs, a convergence of folks from many varying help sites, vaguely occupy organized got together to generate logistics and coordination. Change is ever-present. The entire sanctuary upstairs will be empty for Sunday church service. The weekend will bring another huge wave of volunteers in to city which they need to prepare better to handle. UPS donated 10 trucks for the next day to send everything out of the sanctuary. Folks in Red Hook organizing across many cultural/political lines including receiving help from cops and state officials, politicians- delivering whatever the organizers ask for, and grateful for the info. It has been a weary 12 days for most, with many high emotional experiences that will need to be processed. Just being in the room brought me a sense of that weariness, so I sent energy out to all corners, strong. About 70 people in the room. Talk of getting out of tunnel vision, crisis mode, and staying in the long-haul. Very quickly the role of the groups will adapt from emergency relief, into cleaning and rebuilding. Folks must be aware and also adapt and learn new skills to continue being affective.
Speak: We need a warehouse space. We are organizing housing scenarios. Working to protect against land-grabs that likely will be made by capitalists. Canvassing neighborhoods and getting detailed info including landlord info to apply pressure on fixing and taking care of these properties. I wonder if many slum-lords will just not even be able to hang, when it comes to rebuilding like this. Hope and possibility for community run housing scenarios. There is a lot of opportunity. Areas were completely destroyed; there is a chance to build sustainably and off-grid. NYC Housing Authority is acting slow, 25000 tenants still without power.
After meeting, overheard some talk about Red Cross. A girl tried to volunteer, they had her sit through a 4 hour training session, of which 3 hours was about the "philosophy of shelter", and also told them all "We have no work for you, (four days after the hurricane) but we'll contact you when/if we do". They offered her the chance, if she was able to commit three full consecutive days at a shelter, which she could not, due to commitments. An impossible behemoth.
Andy's friend described to him the food-stuffs portioned out after long lines and passing through a militarized check-point with gun-toting guards, to receive some tiny portions of GMO food and skittles snack pack. Degrading, dehumanizing, unhealthy, and depressing.
Folks running the kitchen at 520 were very appreciative of the food, head chef made a point to note it looked really good. Everyone under a lot of stress, all volunteer, but she came to make that moment for us to connect in appreciation of each other. As always, life is full of incredible people and the sense of humor and humanity is everywhere. While we were talking, a load of boxes of food arrived out of some truck, vegetables good, but also 2 boxes of ground beef and 4 whole chickens or something... She had to go and told us to handle it, (not enough fridge in kitchen) which we did by creating this small colony of mini-fridges on the church floor running off extension cord, completely packed with meat so we needed to duct tape shut. Just to keep for the morning. I spent most of the eve working with a girl who has been at that church since she was born. We were working in there until 10 (someone mentioned she's always there late, she has keys) when we locked up and all got out of there, some to head to a bar nearby, others to get home.
Andy got back from his show and he and I hit the road -
There is still much going on down there, and I made contact with the organizers of the kitchen at St. Jacobi; & St. Luke & Matthew (520 Clinton). It looks like those groups will continue organizing volunteers to continue doing what is most relevant. They were getting ready to begin in earnest the process of cleaning out and ‘gutting’ homes in the Rockaways.
I feel we should keep maintaining contact, and keep collecting and sending support. It will soon change where the needs become building materials rather than emergency supplies, but of course food is always a necessity for any work-force, of which Occupy Sandy is a large and active one. We have an organization just as limber and responsive as they, and will keep ourselves alert by acting in these times as it is noble to do.