Two Bridges community rallies to help trapped senior citizens
BY SAM SPOKONY | As people across the city worked to recover from the impact of Hurricane Sandy, a group of seniors trapped in a Lower East Side building — without electricity, water or adequate food supplies — were being saved from the brink of despair by community leaders, city workers and volunteers who came to their aid.
The nearly 50 elderly tenants of 80 Rutgers Slip who didn’t leave the building — which is in Zone A, the area that was under mandatory evacuation orders before the storm hit — faced a dire situation when their lobby was flooded and power was lost on Monday night.
Following the storm, the Two Bridges Neighborhood Council spearheaded a collaborative effort that provided a vital lifeline to the ailing seniors.
“We’ve been extremely pleased with the turnout so far,” said Victor Papa, president of Two Bridges, speaking on Wednesday afternoon.
Earlier that day, three meals for each of the 80 Rutgers tenants were delivered by the nonprofit organization Citymeals on Wheels, in an arrangement arranged and overseen by Two Bridges.
And Papa explained that on Thursday, the seniors would be receiving 200 more meals from the city’s Department for the Aging.
He also said that, in an equally heroic effort, a local volunteer dropped off 60 gallons of water at 80 Rutgers Slip on Tuesday. The water was shared between that building and the adjacent 82 Rutgers Slip, which, like many other buildings in the area, was also without power and running water in the days following Sandy.
The Two Bridges staff also bought dozens of flashlights on Wednesday for the elderly tenants, but Papa added that more were needed for that building and others in the area.
He continued to encourage area residents to donate flashlights and other supplies to 80 Rutgers, since aid to the building was only immediate and didn’t constitute even a consistent short-term plan. The meal deliveries, Papa stressed, would not be continuous and were secured only for the days on which the food was delivered.
Although Internet reception was spotty and keeping cell phones charged was a constant struggle, social media and other Internet resources helped the swift responses to the seniors’ desperate needs, as well as to other struggling buildings within Lower East Side communities.
A new community-based volunteer Web site, lowereastside.recovers.org, went online on Tuesday morning. The product of volunteer collaborations between Occupy Wall Street and 350.org (an environmental organization), the “recovers” site allowed local residents to communicate and organize in support of ailing neighbors, as well as allowing community organizations like Two Bridges to post requests for donations for specific buildings.
Recovers.org is a for-profit operation that licenses its software to cities and major organizations that are preparing for disasters, and was founded last year by survivors of a tornado in Massachusetts.
“I think the site will make things a lot easier during the big transition that’s going to take place between the immediate disaster response and planning for long term needs,” said Caitria O’Neill, co-founder and C.E.O. of recovers.org.
Those who wish to donate specifically to Lower East Side buildings in need can visit lowereastside.recovers.org and contact community representatives by phone or e-mail.
As of 5 p.m. on Wednesday, the Web site also had requests for donations to 46 Hester St. in Chinatown, 242 E. Second St. in the East Village, and numerous other buildings in need.
Nearly 250,000 people were still without electrical power in Manhattan as of Friday. On Wednesday at noon, Con Edison released a statement saying that people in Manhattan and Brooklyn who are served by underground equipment should have power back by Saturday.
Papa acknowledged that Con Ed’s ability to restore power would be the most important part of recovering from the impact of Hurricane Sandy, but he stressed that, for the moment, it was up to Lower East Side residents to keep themselves going.
“In the end, we can’t rely on the circumstances of crisis, and the predictions of the authorities,” Papa said. “We have to rely on ourselves. We’re the ones that have to live through this.”