T-shirts and Beach Towels and Tote Bags, Oh My!

Exciting news never stops coming over here in Rockaway, and this week is no exception.

First off, at long last, we got R&R t-shirts! We’ve been waiting for a long, long time, and we think they’re pretty high fashion.

Thanks to Wieden + Kennedy for these great new shirts!

Thanks to Wieden + Kennedy for these great new shirts!

YOU can get your hands on one of these in two ways. One, you can come by and volunteer and buy one on your way out. Alternately, if you’ve already volunteered with us and can’t make it back, we can ship them, too! The shirts are $20 and proceeds go toward R&R’s work in Rockaway. Please stay tuned–we’ll soon have tote bags and other goodies as well!

In other big news, One Kings Lane has partnered with Steven Alan to support R&R’s work through the sales of an exclusive collection of designer beach towels. We think they would come in handy if volunteers want to take a dip after a long day of Sandy Aid…We also think they’re pretty cute.

Thanks to Steven Alan and One Kings Lane for supporting recovery in Rockaway!

Thanks to Steven Alan and One Kings Lane for supporting recovery in Rockaway!

Last but certainly not least, R&R would like to thank the Occupy Sandy Local Business Registry for helping us fund the rebuilding of a Rockaway home. With their help, R&R is assisting a Rockaway retiree in moving out of a hotel and back into her home. We couldn’t do it without you! Be sure to check out opportunities to help in Rockaway recovery efforts here.

Respond & Rebuild in the News

Roadside debris, 5 weeks in. Progress.As the weeks roll on (and we can’t believe there have only been 5 of them so far!) Respond & Rebuild has been getting some more great press. Since we last updated the site, we’ve been mentioned in an article published by Raycomm Media that reached about 40-some-odd outlets, and says great things about our early work. You can check out the article here. And if you’d like to check out the author of the piece, Ray Downs, follow him on Twitter at @RayDowns.

Occupy Sandy gets some great press here, in a video from New York’s Daily News, and Respond & Rebuild’s own Gabriel Van Houten has a quick cameo appearance in front of the YANA Community Center in Rockaway Park.

Last but not least, we got a quick shout out from this Gotham Gazette piece, which features two of our speakers from our mold education events in the Rockaways, Coney Island, and Staten Island last weekend. The four sessions we held were the first of their kind in the area, and each meeting was full of residents wondering about health effects of mold, how to get rid of it, and how to know if homes are safe. Bloomberg is under a bit of fire recently for not addressing the health risk sooner, and Respond & Rebuild is gearing up to build our capacity to address this threat to public safety. As far as we can see, Respond & Rebuild is the only group offering trusted mold remediation services for free in the Rockaways, despite the fact that many Sandy-affected families are experiencing extreme financial hardship and found themselves under-insured when Sandy hit home. Currently, we are discussing ways that we can train neighbors to train neighbors in inexpensive but reputable methods for treating mold in flooded homes, in as many affected areas of NYC as possible.

Last but certainly not least, we have some exciting projects in the works and we want you to stay updated. We know you want to be informed as we launch a full-on mold offensive! If you haven’t yet, please follow our official Facebook page and also check out our first video. (Thanks to Nick, April, and Lemia for all their help on this!) There’s more good news to come, so stay tuned.


So much to be thankful for

This holiday season has given us so much to be thankful for, it’s almost overwhelming. All of us have friends and families to thank, for both supporting our work and supporting our well-being in so many ways.

There have also been those who have surprised us: strangers who offered in-kind donations both to us and Occupy Sandy. Some have heard about our work, both strangers and friends, and have helped contribute monetary support to keep us going. Some have come by our job sites with bagged lunches to keep our volunteers well-fed while in the field. Some have offered up spaces in their living rooms to store tools until we could get them down to our work sites in affected areas. Some have donated tech skills and help with coordinating our databases. Some have held fundraisers or passed hats so we could get the supplies we needed as soon as we needed them. Pastor Dennis, who opened up his church to us to use as a staging ground for dispatching volunteers. Sal Lopizzo from Yana who has provided us with space, rides home, encouragement, and reminds us that we are never alone. (He also is great at hugging.)

We also would like to thank the great people at Liberty Bar in Seattle who let some ex-New Yorker friends there hold a benefit to support our work, and also the fine folks at Jimmy’s Diner who have helped keep us fed (and so well!) on long days when we have no time to fend for ourselves.

A special thanks this weekend to Edge Auto Rental who donated use of a 15 passenger rental van to Respond and Rebuild for 10 days, which helped us to make the most of the hundreds of volunteers who have been coming out for this holiday weekend. Without support like this, we’d have a much more difficult time effectively coordinating the enormous amount of volunteer motivation we’ve seen in the Rockaways.

One more big thanks goes out to our friends at All Hands Volunteers for inviting us out to their project site in Staten Island for Thanksgiving dinner. It was great to see old friends, hear about all the great work they’re doing in the community, and wish everyone luck on their new project starting up soon in Long Beach. Hugs to all we missed when we were out there.

Phew. That’s quite the thank you list, and it’s not nearly complete. We’re thinking of you all as we continue with the relief efforts in the Rockaways and beyond, and as we brainstorm about the best, most sustainable, inclusive, productive ways to move forward to rebuilding Sandy-affected communities in NYC.

Lots of love to you all.

Update from Terri, Day 21

The early days of the mobile pumping unit, or People’s Pump.

Lately, I’ve been spending a few minutes in the morning zoning out and looking out my window on to our busy street in Brooklyn. I get a cold blast of air to wake me up and a few minutes of alone time before opening up my bedroom door and heading to the kitchen for coffee.

My little one bedroom apartment has been transformed into the home of 6 disaster relief volunteers as well as the staging ground for Respond & Rebuild’s relief efforts. “Headquarters” is a loosely organized mess of air mattresses, a much used kitchen-cum-conference table, and storage space for our new fashion accessories: head lamps, N95 dust masks, mud boots, and safety vests, not to mention 6 computers and various smart phones in constant use for all the behind the scene work that makes this operation possible.

I love all the people who sleep on my floor, but it’s nice to say good morning after the pillow marks have faded and I have at least one eye open. Coffee time usually doubles as a quick meeting, so there’s no time to waste being groggy while we coordinate who is going where, when the volunteers will arrive, what cars can fit what people and supplies, and what we have to bring to make sure our day goes (relatively) smoothly.

My morning retreat at that window is always a surreal one. I see Fort Greeners walking their dogs, grabbing their bagels, taking their buses, and in general going about their normal daily routine. People chat, sip hot coffee that comes exactly the way they like it. They scurry around looking good, as New Yorkers often do. A month ago, this all seemed normal to me. These days it makes me feel like I’ve been transported to another world.

For the first 12 days or so after Hurricane Sandy I was in the field everyday. The first day I arrived, smoke still plumed from a recent fire on Rockaway Beach Blvd. Debris and destroyed furniture lined every street, reminding me of the omnipresent rubble from my days in post-earthquake Haiti. With destroyed homes and no power, hundreds of people lined up for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or boxes of lukewarm Dunkin Donuts coffee, imported from Brooklyn. Grabbing willing volunteers and community members, we pumped out families’ basements with a thrown together mobile pumping unit in our big yellow cargo van. At first we just had a giant blue and white sign that screamed “We Have Pumps!” Soon we realized we had to edit it to say “FREE!” since Rockaways residents were already being bombarded by price gougers who were charging more than my monthly rent for a pump out.

Things have started to change in the Rockaways. A lot of this stuff is still happening, but more people have gotten their hands on generators, many of them free of cost from Occupy Sandy’s Amazon gift registry. Water has receded and I’ve heard rumors of a few people even having power, though I haven’t seen it yet. We are no longer the only ones helping people out there, as it seemed in the first days after the disaster. There are bucket loaders transferring refuse from the mixed commercial and residential strip that burnt completely, and where 3 weeks ago entire families swam together, away from the encroaching flames, toward what they weren’t sure, in a deluge of contaminated flood waters.

But it’s still a disaster zone. And it’s still where I prefer spending my time.

Respond & Rebuild has been more successful than I ever imagined. We have seemingly limitless requests for our services, and we’ve had to acquire two new phones just to field those calls. Some days we’ve had so many volunteers interested we’ve had to turn some away, because we can only take as many volunteers as we have tools and supplies for them to work with. (Don’t let this discourage you, we still need you to come out and work with us!) We’ve taken on a full time volunteer coordinator, particularly to organize groups like the Americorps volunteers who call, or like the AT&T group of 200 who wanted to show up and help. This week we had a group of 30 Howard University students who took a bus from Washington DC at 3am to come and meet us at 9, work for 8 hours, and return the same day. (And we’ve been fielding calls from families they worked with, because they were so great the families want all the same students back for the next steps!) We’ve had to put out emergency calls for help answering emails because we can hardly keep up with those either.

All of this amazing, inspiring, heartwarming interest in helping means more of us are needed at our computers everyday so we can coordinate all this motivation in the most effective way. And of course, this is the whole point. But on the days I stay in Fort Greene to work from home or from our Occupy Hub office, it’s hard to process all the normalcy around me. I know we are only increasing our capacity to help those still in need and who are still being told to wait when they contact inundated groups like FEMA and National Grid or LIPA. And I know this is a good thing.

Still, at 7am, while I stare out my window and wipe sleep from my eyes, gazing at Brooklynites going about their daily lives, it’s hard not to picture the places we’re working and the families who are counting on us to stick it through the rebuilding process. And when I go into my kitchen and caffeinate myself for the day with our team, I can see the big picture. We all have our roles in this process, and even if I’m going back and forth between the office and the field, we are actually moving forward.