On the Ground in South Brooklyn

Seagate; photo courtesy Misha Gulko.

by Margarita Korol

After Sunday’s super-storm, and with limited media coverage around the extent of devastation in various regions, it became apparent via word of mouth in the community that seniors in south Brooklyn who hadn’t evacuated were facing days of critical conditions with no lights, elevators, heat, internet or phone service. By Thursday COJECO, a beneficiary agency of UJA-Federation of New York, and several partner organizations began organizing teams of people to canvass buildings with high senior populations in order to collect information about residents’ needs, whether that meant food, water, medical attention, contact with relatives, or help evacuating.

Seagate; photo courtesy Misha Gulko.

On Friday, 75 volunteers joined the effort, with roughly 100 volunteers on Saturday as well as Sunday, reaching residents in approximately 50 buildings across Seagate, Coney Island, Brighton Beach, Sheepshead Bay, and Far Rockaway.

COJECO Volunteers after Hurricane Sandy; photo courtesy COJECO.

Volunteered manpower poured in, individuals who wanted to help that were reached by hubs on Facebook, Twitter, COJECO’s website, and recruitments by organizers at JCH, SFY, Kings Bay Y, Congregation Beth Elohim, Occupy Sandy, EZRA, RAJE, and RJeneration. In addition to donated water, non-perishable food, flashlights, batteries, and medicine, monetary donations to COJECO since Thursday have gone toward relief efforts, and on Sunday all stations had reached capacity in resources and volunteers.

Receiving hundreds of correspondences by email and phone from volunteers and people requesting that their relatives in south Brooklyn be reached, COJECO’s program director-turned-volunteer-coordinator Lisa Klig and partner organizers coordinated via an email chain with on-the-ground facilitators like those from Jewish Community House of Bensonhurst at FDR Shelter, and John Lisyanskiy who led efforts in the Amalgamated Warbasse Houses where hundreds of seniors were unable to leave their apartments on higher floors in areas without nearby resources available in the first place, and whose language barriers restricted their communication with local officials. Said Lisyanskiy on the Facebook event page, “It is after 10:00pm and we have 4 girls walking through the cold dark buildings with NYPD and FDNY teams to try and evacuate some of the elderly seniors who expressed interest to leave and asked for our assistance.”

Social media played an important part in the effort. The Facebook event became the central hub of dialogue between organizers and volunteers. As the online community grows, volunteers have offered home-cooked food to be picked up, drivers, manpower, and tips. Meanwhile photos on COJECO’s Facebook page provides a glimpse into the devastation not felt in parts of the city nearby. The coordinating body’s Twitter attracted #OccupySandy and marathon runner attention to bit.ly/cojecosandyrelief, where vital details for linking with the organized efforts are being updated regularly.

Together, Russian Jewish-interest nonprofits, south Brooklyn and New York neighbors, and out-of-towners joined forces to empower seniors in a time of distress while in wait for electric power and public services to reach them. By reconnecting a members of the Russian Jewish population with language-barriers to the community, these organized efforts are meeting needs of the entire neighborhood.

Margarita Korol is Marketing and PR Coordinator at COJECO.