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Volunteers Risk Empty Gas Tanks to Deliver Supplies from Williamsburg to the Rockaways

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It may not seem far, but the 17-mile trip from Brooklyn to the Rockaways on a dwindling supply of gas carries weighted uncertainty.

On a Tuesday afternoon donation run, three neighbors and I drove past gas stations along the route that were either taped off and out of fuel or surrounded by a line of cars that stretched for many blocks in snarled traffic nightmares.

We wondered if our half-tank would provide enough gas to allow the return trip back to Brooklyn after delivering our cargo.

Casey -- the driver -- had been saving the gas for days to make sure the trip would be as impactful as possible. The goods included four volunteers, trays of hot meals donated by local restaurants, flashlights, diapers, paper towels, blankets purchased from dollar stores and cans of cat food.

As we drove through Howard Beach toward Broad Channel the no-electricity line appeared. Traffic police directed cars to slow down and wait to proceed at each intersection. We navigated the road past marooned boats and heavy construction vehicles, while dump trucks waited to haul trash, and bulldozers, fork lifts and sanitation trucks worked to replace sand and remove debris.

We passed the first collection point, where donations are sorted and redistributed before being sent across the bay to stations and shelters on the Rockaways. We crossed the Cross Bay Bridge and drove to Veggie Island -- a local juice bar and meeting spot next to the Taco Mansion.

Matthew Calendar runs a donation distribution operation at Veggie Island in connection with Williamsburg's Pilgrim Surf Supply, which collects and sends drivers out daily to replenish relief supplies and return with news.

Many businesses in Williamsburg are doing the same -- setting up donation drop points, organizing drivers and adjusting to shelter needs. Malin Landaeus has organized more than 12 carloads out to the Rockaways from her storefront on N6 and Bedford in the past few days.

Nine days after the storm hit, Williamsburg businesses called the first collaborative meeting, which was set for 7:00 p.m. Wednesday night at Union Pool. The idea is to combine efforts, create a strategy and develop a more long-term solution to assist the affected areas.

Williamsburg has a special connection to the Rockaways, as many residents head to the surf town to escape the city. In the past few years, the Rockaways have gained popularity as Roberta's beloved pizza, Blue Bottle Coffee and other Brooklyn restaurants set up on the boardwalk.

That boardwalk is now entirely washed down 92nd street. Year-round Rockaways resident Sam Fleischnier requested chainsaws, crowbars, a circular saw and screw guns, and says he plans to up-cycle the boardwalk wood into a fence.

Other residents are well into their own process of home restoration, cleaning out basements, bleaching floors and walls to mitigate mold, shoveling mud and sand piles from unexpected places, removing debris from front yards and then starting to rebuild.

This work is made difficult as many residents attempt the clean-up without the proper supplies. The next round of donation requests might be hardware and construction supplies, and volunteers with strength and building knowledge are also in high demand.

Also in demand are cold weather health supplies. Merry, a resident, requested cold medicine for her 19-year-old daughter, and blankets to combat the wet, coastal cold front that has moved in. As Merry told me about her needs she smiled through her words.

"I smile because I don't want to cry," she said. "When you see everything outside, you want to cry."

The gas -- however sparse -- is worth the trip out to the Rockaways. Gather supplies, fill the car, hand donations directly to the people who need them and provide hope with your kindness and compassion. Speak to people -- ask their needs and gather contact information, and spread the word.

On the return trip you might wonder how you ever considered staying home to save gas.