Thanksgiving has been my favorite holiday for decades. Without the burden that can come with other more religiously-connected holidays, I’ve seen it as an opportunity to gather with friends and family of choice to give thanks for the good things in life.
This November, though, I’m finding the concept of “giving thanks” a difficult one.
Those of us who live along the eastern coastline have struggled to recover from the aftermath of last month’s hurricane. In New York City, NYCOFI’s Brooklyn office was unscathed, as were our staff and board. But we have been witness to the devastation that has occurred along the shore of Brooklyn and Long Island, and across the river in Staten Island.
New York Communities for Change (NYCC), our sister organization, experienced its own heartbreak when Jessie Streich-Kest, the daughter of NYCC’s Executive Director Jon Kest, was killed by a falling tree during the storm.
NYCC did not allow itself to be thwarted by the storm or the grief. The work they’ve been doing is nothing short of miraculous.
Leading up to the storm, NYCC organizers reached out to their members and community residents through Facebook and website posts, phone calls, and e-mails in order to keep them updated on evacuation orders, locations of shelters, and the impact on mass transit. Organizers stayed in touch throughout the storm, and then re-opened the office as soon as the hurricane subsided and travel became possible.
On November 1st, they sent out requests for volunteers and donations of food and supplies and stationed organizers in the hardest-hit areas.
Suddenly, the conference room shared by NYCC and NYCOFI was piled full of canned goods, clothing, diapers, and other necessities; being emptied as items were distributed, and then filled up again. The logistics alone were commendable.
NYCC mobilized both online and in low-income communities, first ensuring the collection and delivery of food and other items to serve basic needs, and then organizing residents for the longer and harder task of monitoring the implementation of local, state, and federal housing assistance programs. They anticipate that more than 10,000 displaced families will need housing, and are reaching out to them to connect them to safe and affordable housing.
In the meantime they’ve been going – literally – door-to-door to assess the needs of the residents, and then bring resources to where they’ve been most needed. Astonishingly, teams of NYCC canvassers were doing needs assessment before FEMA was even on the ground, and the Red Cross actually contacted them to determine where to direct resources! With the help of more than 500 volunteers they’ve distributed hundreds of truckloads of food and supplies to residents living without power and access to basic services. On their website, they posted links to resources for providing help with property damage and finding food and water distribution sites. NYCC staff has been driven – some of them working six or seven days a week – to get all of this accomplished.
Equally remarkable, NYCC was also active in Get Out the Vote efforts, providing information about new polling sites and procedures.
Now, in partnership with MHANY Management, NYCC is helping residents and homeowners apply for relief from FEMA and other governmental agencies, as well as organizing for longer-term rebuilding.
Of course, the relief and rebuilding effort will take months. Monitoring the activities of governmental agencies and private landlords will take even longer. But NYCC is in for the long term.
It’s easy to see that NYCC’s work is a tremendous example of community organizing at its best. Those of us impacted by the storm are thankful for the work that they have done not just the past three weeks, but for the past three years of their existence – and excited about their future possibilities.
Now we all have the chance to take a day. To stop for a few hours, take a breath and remember the things we have, and the things for which we should be thankful.