AFP – Veterans of the campaign to bring Wall Street to a standstill are now in an army of volunteers helping the tens of thousands in a crippled district of New York one week after superstorm Sandy struck.
Hundreds of volunteers have poured into Far Rockaway, a poor working class district on the fringes of New York City, which endured an horrific storm last Monday.
Jets are flying overhead into the nearby John F. Kennedy airport, but on Sunday there was still no electricity or fuel in Rockaway as temperatures headed down toward freezing. All the stores are still closed.
A long line of people formed outside St Gertrude’s church on Beach 38 Street, where the volunteers have made their headquarters.
Deep storm scars have been left in Rockaway. About 100 homes were burned down in one part of the district. Inhabitants hurled abuse at New York mayor Michael Bloomberg when he went there Saturday.
Soledad Garcia, 60, waited with a woollen hat covering her head and pulling a trolley behind her. “I need things to wash myself and to eat,” she said.
Stephanie Acree, 28, said she needed a pocket lamp, baby diapers and food. “We have no electricity so I cannot cook,” she said.
The church and a gymnasium next door were flooded by the storm. But now hundreds of volunteers are there sorting out boxes and sacks of hygiene products, clothes and shoes loaded behind tables which each have a sign: men, women, babies, boys, girls.
A barbecue in a courtyard prepares food for the inhabitants and the volunteers.
As night fell a shout went up for help to get all the contributions inside gymnasium before the last light goes. Twenty men and women quickly formed a line throwing the boxes to each other.
Kenneth Soto, with a hoodie coverying his head, a big gold chain around his neck and baggy jeans, came from the district. Many came from more wealthy parts of Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan. Many had been part of the Occupy Wall Street protest movement last year.
An “Occupy Sandy” page was set up on Facebook on Wednesday as word spread of devastation in Far Rockaway, where the beaches are a popular summer attraction.
“We were able to mobilize very fast,” said Leo Eisenstein, 24, one of the organizers whose day job is at an AIDS testing laboratory. “We now have six or seven centers in Red Hook, Far Rockaway, Staten Island and other places hard hit by the hurricane.”
“There is a time to demonstrate and a time to help,” added Bruno Giuliani, a 38-year-old filmmaker.
Unshaven and wearing dark glasses, Giuliani, who says he is a Rockaway fanatic, told how everything started in the district on Saturday morning. He came from Manhattan on a bike with four friends.
Another friend from the Occupy movement told them about the church. There the caretaker was putting sacks of donated clothes on the sidewalk for people to help themselves.
Giuliani and his friends appealed for more donations and social media spread the word. They slept in the church on Saturday night and on Sunday the hundreds started to arrive to help.
“Even two trucks of National Guard came to help,” Giuliani stressed, amused at the irony of the unexpected partnership between the security forces and the Occupy militants, hundreds of whom were arrested during last year’s demonstrations.