Needless to say, a lot has happened since we kicked off the fundraiser. It's been a busy few days but in our eyes worth every single minute. It was a race to get everything lined up - as soon as we committed to the fundraiser, I threw together a form on Formstack and set up payments through Stripe to collect the donations (and it was pretty easy to do both - yay the power of technology!). Aaron worked on writing up the blog post and we traded language back and forth.
On Friday, we had to shop for supplies ahead of knowing whether or not the fundraiser was going to be successful because of the tight timeline. As we saw the donations pouring in through email notifications, we knew the support was out there and we pressed on. The other challenge was finding a location and connecting with someone in the community to alert them to the fact that we were coming. Wayne knew that Allison Robicelli has been organizing volunteers and supplies so he connected with her, and she told us that Gerritsen Beach was in dire need of hot food - they have no electricity and their homes were flooded out. All day Saturday was focused on prep, and we were lucky that our friend Stepha generously took the whole day to help us. We also coordinated a group of volunteers to help us serve food - the biggest hurdle was finding gas for the volunteer car to come down with us!
Yesterday we headed to Gerritsen Beach. As we drove through Brooklyn, we noticed areas that were completely "normal" and it seemed like nothing had happened. Then we realized that the unusual Sunday morning traffic was caused by blocks-long lines of cars waiting for gas. At a certain point, we crossed a line - the traffic lights were out, cars were parked at funny angles, there were tree branches everywhere. And then we saw the piles of possessions out on the curb. Entire lives had been stacked out on the street, ruined by cold, dirty seawater. We could hear the hum of the generators. Some people were walking about almost aimlessly, like they were still in total shock about what had happened. Others looked purposeful, with a grim set to their jaws and a pair of dishwashing gloves on, ready for more scrubbing and cleaning and discarding.
Wayne jumped out of the car and walked up to one of the firefighters and told him we were the "taco people". Gary, the firefighter, gave Wayne a bear hug and told us that they had reserved a spot for us across from the fire department building. So we rapidly unloaded our vehicles and set up our stations. Our volunteers were so quick and helpful that we were up and running ahead of schedule. We decided that it made the most sense to serve rice, two kinds of beans, and a variety of our tacos off the regular menu - but in much larger amounts. Apparently word got around that the rice was really good, so it was gone in less than two hours! We continued to make our tacos like we always do, with fresh tortillas, and people seemed very curious about that.
We chatted briefly with some of the residents and they had some heartbreaking stories to tell. One woman still had water in her basement and was looking for help to get the water out. A dad was concerned about the temperature dropping, but all he had was a tarp and some blankets to keep his kids warm. Others were stranded because their vehicles were completely ruined by the water. An older lady just kept saying "I've lost everything." Even in the face of all of this, the community decided to hold the annual Halloween parade to give the kids a moment of normalcy. The volunteer firefighters asked us to give out some candy as the kids walked by. Some adults were dressed up and marched down the street playing xylophones and drums. I couldn't get over how mournful it sounded even though it was supposed to sound joyful. For me it was probably the most emotional moment of the day.
In the few hours we were there, it seemed like some help was coming in from various sources - individual, concerned citizens dropping off clothing and food donations, a FEMA truck and personnel from Ohio, a Red Cross vehicle with MRE's - but I do get the sense that residents in Gerritsen Beach feel a bit abandoned. As of today they still have no power and it didn't seem like there was any overall plan by the government for moving forward. But individuals within the community were organizing aid, they weren't waiting around. One man mentioned that he had arranged a thousand dollar donation from a pizzeria in Williamsburg for buying cleaning supplies.
The response was enormous - we constantly heard how appreciative people were and that it was a nice break from pasta and cold food. (We do feel a bit bad that we hadn't brought any coffee - that was the first thing that someone asked for as we were setting up!) Wayne and I estimate that we fed around 250 people in a little over four hours. Although this was just one meal, and that can feel pretty insignificant in all of this, we're hopeful that we gave people a respite. We believe in the power of food bringing people together, and I hope that in some small measure we were able to contribute to that.
We're still figuring out our next steps - we did raise more money than we expected and have enough to go out another day. But we're such a small operation right now (me and Wayne with some help from Catherine Piccoli and Carlos Paulino) that it's a challenge to produce the food while still keeping our prior business commitments. In addition, gas is still in short supply here in Brooklyn so just getting around to pick up supplies is, well, interesting. We'll keep you updated over the next few days about what we're going to do, and we greatly appreciate everyone's support.
And of course we wanted to thank the following people for making the past week possible:
- Aaron Cohen
- Adriana Jacobs
- David Jacobs
- Alexandra Klasinski
- Stepha Krynytzky
- Catherine Piccoli
- Adam Wright
- Henrietta Yuki
and all of our donors!