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Sat Nov 17, 2012, 04:10 AM

Light After the Storm - Local Churches Partner with Occupy Sandy in Grass Roots Relief Efforts


It was a beautiful sight -- throngs of volunteers lining up outside a local church on Sunday, Day Five of the local recovery initiative spearheaded by Occupy Sandy. The number of willing helpers had tripled over the last three days alone, a response as dizzying as it was encouraging for the coordinators at the relief hub in St. Jacobi Lutheran Church in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, New York.

Occupy Sandy is an offshoot of the Occupy Movement, which, until now was by some pundits given up for dead. In collaboration with Occupy Sunset Park, 350.org, recovers.org and interoccupy.net, it emerged to meet the essential needs of storm victims while larger charities were already turning away willing volunteers, just a few days after the storm. It began organizing local relief efforts so that supplies could be immediately sent to the most devastated areas -- beginning with Red Hook and The Rockaways. To their own surprise the Occupy activists found themselves doing so with an efficiency and speed that was sometimes outpacing government relief organizations. While the latter focused on essential infrastructure -- pumping out subway stations and restoring transportation and power -- independent groups were able to reach isolated areas by building community solidarity and mutual aid on the local level. Both entities were needed, as was becoming ever more apparent.

This grassroots coalition mobilizes the way it knows best, by the standard means of organization for 21st century movements the world over: via social media. Website OccupySandy.org, facebook page Occupy Sandy Relief NYC, and twitter account @OccupySandy have enabled organizers to rapidly rally help and coordinate much-needed items, such as flashlights, batteries, blankets, cleaning supplies, masks, gloves and non-perishable foods. Laptops for operations are in as much demand as are vehicles for distribution. This is a people-powered disaster relief platform designed to help coordinate rapid response. Command central at the church office was cramped and chilly, but I was amazed by the group's ability to organize and improvise as the day unfolded, and I discovered that their leaders, specialists, and planners meet each night to tweak the system, while the media crew are tweeting their followers with updates.

On Friday Nov. 2nd, 2012, two days after the storm, when its after-effects became more apparent as flood waters receded, activity at St. Jacobi increased ten-fold. Word of drop-off points had spread, mostly through social media, providing an accessible way for locals to help. Occupy Sandy has set up at least 37 pick-up/drop-off locations, including its primary distribution/volunteer centers: The church of St. Luke and St. Matthew in Crown Heights and St. Jacobi Church in Sunset Park. Other volunteer centers have been set up in Clinton Hill, the Lower East Side, Rockaway, Staten Island, Coney Island, and an additional one with a kitchen planned for Sunset Park.

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