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ExtremeRavens: The Sanctuary

Occupy Sandy Offers Aid to Hurricane Victims


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The sanctuary at the Church of St. Luke and St. Matthew on Clinton Avenue is brimming with donated clothes, children’s books and diapers. The church’s heavy wooden doors are open and the air inside is cool. Volunteers in wool hats and down jackets flit about, chatting with each other as they assemble care packages with toothbrushes and toothpaste and load cars with cleaning supplies and bottled water to deliver to neighborhoods devastated by Hurricane Sandy.

Since Saturday, Occupy Sandy, the grassroots relief effort developed by Occupy Wall Street organizers, through networks such as Inter Occupy, has had a main distribution and volunteer training center in the church.


Guided by the same principles as Occupy Wall Street, such as mutual aid and gaining traction through Facebook and Twitter, Occupy Sandy seeks to provide immediate relief to those who need it most. Occupy Sandy volunteers feel they are participating in democracy in action. They didn’t ignore the national election, but it wasn’t the pervading topic at their outpost here. Jamie Munro, 27, began volunteering with Occupy Sandy as soon as the movement began.

“I mean, I voted,” Mr. Munro said. “I don’t think it’s a totally useless thing to do, but I think this gives people a sense of what democracy is a lot more than voting does.”

Trailed by a group of new volunters, site coordinator Samantha Corbin, 28, scurried up a set of creaking stairs to the church balcony to the communications hub, where volunteers update social media and take calls from volunteers in flooded areas of Far Rockaway and Red Hook. They are getting updates on where food is needed most and what neighborhoods need cleaning supplies.

“Remind me when I’m supposed to eat something!” Ms. Corbin says to her fellow volunteers.

Rev. Michael Sniffen, 32, rector at the church, was a fixture at Zuccotti Park when Occupy Wall Street began last September. His connection with the movement prompted him to open up the church to Occupy Sandy.

“We’re neighbors helping neighbors, on a fleet of bicycles,” Mr. Sniffen says. “It’s an image of community at its best.”

More than 2,500 volunteers have signed up for a variety of jobs at the church, from transporting supplies on bike and by car, to canvassing the neighborhood asking for donations of the most requested items, such as toiletries, cleaning supplies and industrial trash bags.

That number does not include those who have dropped off donations without signing up.

John Krinsky, associate professor of political science at City College of New York, says that Occupy Sandy is well positioned to provide immediate hurricane relief because of the small group of connected organizers.

“They’re committed and they’re not afraid of personal hardship,” Mr. Krinsky says of the Occupy Sandy organizers and volunteers. “If it means they’re carrying supplies up 20 flights of stairs, they’re going to do it.”

Easton Smith, 23, a site coordinator who was active in the Occupy Wall Street movement, says that Occupy Sandy is “even more beautiful, because we’re focused.”

Mr. Smith said he was not overwhelmed by the election, because the priority is helping New Yorkers in need.

“We’re saying, ‘What can we do for each other right here, today?,” Mr. Smith said.

As a faith leader and believer in the principles of Occupy Wall Street, Mr. Sniffen teaches to “love God and love your neighbor as yourself.”

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