On a street corner in Midland Beach, Staten Island, volunteers have set up a makeshift stand. There’s no tent here, no corporate logos — just a couple of folding tables and cardboard boxes full of food, clothing and cleaning supplies.
Ross Decker is the guy in charge.
“Anytime we run out of something, I tell the people just come back in 20 minutes, it’ll be here,” he says.
Decker says the site, badly flooded during Superstorm Sandy, was picked by a handful of local churches. This volunteer operation seems to be stocked mainly through the kindness of strangers. Like the time they ran out of bleach.
A woman came offering hot chile and apple pie, which they accepted.
“And then said, ‘Oh, I also have bleach.’ And she had two cases of bleach in her trunk, randomly, and it was exactly what we needed at that moment,” Decker says.
Decker’s own house on Staten Island was not damaged in the storm, but he put his regular life on hold to help those who weren’t as lucky. Decker and his wife have raised more than $12,000 through a website. He’s spending it on whatever people tell him they need.
“If they tell me beds, then I grab that money and I buy beds,” he says.
Decker unpacks a box of small folding cots. Just then, two women walk to the corner, coming to pick them up.
Loreena and Eva Levitt were living a few blocks away — until flooding from Sandy made the first two floors of their house uninhabitable. They’re staying with friends. They say it’s crowded, but at least now the kids won’t have to sleep on the floor.
“That’s the only help we ever got. The real people — that’s the only help we got,” Loreena Levitt says. “That’s the people that stood up and did what they had to do to help the neighborhood. Not anybody else.”
The volunteers come from all over the country. Glen Craig drove down from Maine after the storm, and he’s been helping out ever since.
“Tearing out sheet rock, ripping out floors, basically consoling people, hugging people, offering them money, but they won’t take it. Just everything you would want your neighbors to do for you,” he says.
A few blocks away, there’s a larger relief center in the parking lot of a shuttered strip mall. This one is run by Movement for Peace, a small charity based in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Robert Servis, the group’s president, estimates they’re serving about 3,000 free meals a day, and giving away 800 gallons of bleach. Even before he got here, Servis says he was getting donations from people all over the country.
“We went around Ann Arbor. We talked to almost every single business, a lot of residents, and they donated about 2,000 pounds of supplies,” he says. “And this time, we’ve had a lot more supplies come in … there’s a constant stream.”
As Servis is talking, a tour bus pulls up. Volunteers in matching T-shirts get out and unload cases of bottled water and other supplies. Then the bus rolled away. The volunteers at Movement for Peace stayed put; they say they’ll be here as long as they’re needed.