Somewhere is the state of Missouri there are 36 people who asked Jersey City’s City Hall if they could head east and help get the city back on its feet. Having apparently seen the flooding on TV, these fine folks wanted to remove waterlogged mattresses and damaged sofas from homes so strangers several states away could begin to rebuild their lives.
The crew of 36 did not make the trip east, as it turns out, because they needed places to stay locally while volunteering, a request Jersey City’s City Hall couldn’t accommodate. But the anecdote, told by Maryanne Kelleher, points to an unusual dilemma the city is now facing in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. There are now suddenly hundreds of people who feel compelled to do something – anything – to help their fellow neighbors who lost nearly everything. But it is an urge that has overwhelmed city officials who are now fielding dozens of calls each day from people who want to know where and how they can help.
“I opened up a collection center with the Boys and Girls Club,” said Kelleher, who normally spends her days as the director of the city’s Division of Cultural Affairs, but who has become the de facto coordinator of the city’s volunteer effort since the storm hit. “I’ve asked for really specific things. I asked for cleaning supplies, because residents who lost so much are still cleaning up. So they need bleach, they need Windex, they need paper towels. But the things we’re asking for changes almost every day.”
“It seems a lot of people in this area aren’t all that interested in live music.” – Christine Miller-Polselli
In Hoboken, a city full of young single residents, volunteers have come from the Stevens Institute of Technology and just from within the city to help out. They have gone to City Hall and quickly been put to work delivering prescriptions to seniors.
They also have made the rounds knocking on doors to make sure residents – whose phone lines and internet connections may have been stymied by the storm – get help.
A wipe-off bulletin board in front of Hoboken City Hall lists places that people can get help, and any important updates. It even lists open veterinarean’s offices.
Last weekend, Jersey City’s Kelleher took to Facebook to round up clothing and other supplies that were needed at the National Guard Armory, which was at the time being used as a shelter for residents who had been displaced by the storm. Within a day of her Facebook posting, which was picked up and reposted by other residents, the Armory had more baby formula and socks than it knew what to do with.
“Our big trick is how to balance actual needs with things people want to do and give,” Kelleher noted. “Our Facebook page, Jersey City Hurricane Sandy Volunteers, is now going to have live updates. As needs change, I’m going to update that page. So, just because I said, ‘Go to the Armory today,’ doesn’t mean you should go there tomorrow. People have got to go to that page every day, maybe even a couple times a day.”
She said directing volunteers to donate specific items protects volunteers, residents, and the city from potential liabilities because the requests have been vetted by either Kelleher or a member of the city Office of Emergency Management staff.
But giving a bottle of Formula 409 might not satisfy the urge to help that many would-be volunteers may have.
Some residents in downtown Jersey City have been meeting daily at City Hall, at 280 Grove St., to discuss residents’ needs and to deploy people to areas where residents may need more hands-on assistance. These meetings, which have been organized by Candace Osborne, Stephen Musgrave, and other downtown residents, have been instrumental is connecting flooded out homeowners with needs large and small (everything from flashlights and candles to furniture removal). Appropriately enough, these meet-ups have been called “I need help”/”I can help.”
The Barrow Mansion, at 83 Wayne St. downtown, has also become a hub for volunteers to donate items. Each day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. people have been able to drop off such items as relief baskets for flood victims.
Elsewhere in the city, activists Riaz Wahid, Esther Wintner, and members of the Jersey City Homeless Advocacy Group (JC_HAG) have partnered with various city council members and Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy to distribute water, blankets food, and information to residents in the Jersey City Heights, Journal Square, and on the West Side.
JC-HAG was instrumental in moving and finding shelter for Journal Square’s homeless population the day the storm hit.
“I wanted to do something effective. I wanted to get help to people who really needed it,” Wintner said in the early days of the crisis.
More ways to help in JC and Hoboken
Parents for Progress announced earlier this week that it will host a community potluck on Saturday, Nov. 10 in the community hall of St. Paul Lutheran Church, 400 Hoboken Ave. in Jersey City, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. The group’s invitation read: “If your oven or stove works, please bring a dish to share. If not, please join us. Donations at the door will go to local hurricane relief efforts. Please feel free to pass along this invitation to anyone you know.”
In Hoboken, residents have been encouraged to check out rebuildhoboken.org.
The Hoboken Homeless Shelter at 300 Bloomfield St. has also asked for supplies, as it has been filled to capacity.
For updates, keep watching hudsonreporter.com and look for this weekend’s print edition in your neighborhood.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at email@example.com.