While federal mobilization efforts can often take weeks—sometimes months—to reach citizens, Occupy was one of the only local groups capable of quickly mobilizing to help victims. Organizing volunteers and supplies is no small task, but Occupy Sandy has been able to generate a large amount of aid. On Sunday, Michael Premo, one of the volunteers, estimated the mobilization effort included 2,500 volunteers, 15,000 meals and 120 carloads of supplies sent to recovery sites.
Understandably, residents were extremely grateful to receive any help they could get, but storm-ravaged communities weren’t the only recipients glad to see the sometimes-villainized occupiers. In a truly bizarre moment (especially to observers of the NYPD’s violent suppression of Occupy during its time at Zuccotti), FEMA and NYPD officers joined in chanting “We are unstoppable, another world is possible” with Occupy Sandy volunteers helping at Far Rockaway.
Lopi LaRoe, an Occupy Sandy volunteer helping with the recovery efforts in Far Rockaway and Staten Island, described the scene in the aftermath of the storm as being one of total devastation.
“It was decimated and really intense to see,” said LaRoe. “There’s literally a huge swath of area that’s burnt and destroyed.”
LaRoe, who said she hasn’t seen a single Red Cross worker during her time as a volunteer, described a makeshift, bustling community center that emerged in the aftermath. The Red Cross complaint isn’t an anomaly. Both volunteers and storm victims have complained about the missing familiar red roods, and have a habit of speaking about the Red Cross as though they’re phantoms. “I heard they’re out on Staten Island, but I haven’t seen them yet…”
The Red Cross responded to a press inquiry about the ongoing aid effort, stating their organization has helped people in “ten states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico affected by Sandy,” and has served more than 481,000 meals and snacks, provided more than 12,000 health services and emotional support contacts, handed out more than 33,000 relief items, and the entire Cross fleet of response vehicles—“more than 320 in total”—has been activated to distribute meals, water, snacks, and relief supplies.
But it’s clear there’s been interruption and/or inefficiency in disseminating services and aid workers. Grassroots volunteers and NYC residents have complained about the lack of Red Cross workers, and other aid agencies, on the ground.
LaRoe said she saw one military vehicle, the NYFD, and NYPD officers, but mainly in a crowd control capacity, i.e., guarding gas stations during the painfully long waits. However, C.S. Muncy, an independent photojournalist, disputed that take on events when he reported riding around with the Army Guard on Friday in Long Beach, where they were handing out food and water, pulling cars out of the sand, helping clean up debris and patrolling for looters.
Meanwhile, Occupy continues to dutifully help storm-ravaged communities.