Over the past few days, we’ve had the opportunity to deliver supplies to elderly people who re stranded in their apartments in NYC’s Lower East Side. These are frail, isolated people, with limited mobility, living primarily in low-income high-rises near the East River. Because of the continuing power outage in that part of NYC, there are no working elevators, no running water and no electric lights. Therefore, the goal of of our collective efforts was to bring water (both for drinking and for flushing), food and flashlight batteries to these vulnerable seniors.
Volunteer @jennifersylvor, wearing headlamp, getting ready to enter the stairwell with supplies
Anyone who could get out and had somewhere to go has already left these buildings. The people who remain feel tremendously isolated and fearful, with the hallways and stairwells dark and flashlights or candles the only source of light in their apartments. And it’s gotten a lot colder in NYC since the lights went out on Monday, with the temperature dropping down into the 30’s at night.
Ambulance Command Center set up in front of Lower East Side Public School
Walking up 20 flights of stairs carrying food and jugs of water is exhausting even for the more fit among us; I can’t imagine these people being able to get out and bring back supplies. Luckily, social services organizations such as The Educational Alliance and Ur L’Tzedek have organized volunteers who have donated supplies and are willing to make their way to to the neighborhood and into the buildings, which have been completely with out power for 4 days.
Volunteers at the Educational Alliance on East Broadway passing boxes of supplies, bucket-brigade style.
In addition to efforts organized by government and recognized groups, informal food and water collection stations have sprung up spontaneously on street corners and fire hydrants are open for gathering water in buckets to use for flushing.
Today also saw the arrival of boxes of “Ready Meals,” which are self-heating meals, the type of which I imagine they might us in the military. So we added those to our delivery bags and made the trek upstairs, carrying our flashlights.There are also distribution centers outdoors where people who could get out of their apartments waited in line to receive their Ready Meals.
Food distribution center in front of Henry Street Settlement, where Ready Meals are being given out
A self-heating Ready Meal package
Generally, the people upon whose doors we knocked (from lists which we were given) were at least as appreciative of having someone to talk to as they were of getting supplies. The experience reminds us that social isolation is a fact of life for many old people even in the best of times. In an emergency like the one which NYC is now experiencing, that isolation can easily leads to fear and despondency. Having a friendly person show up at your door to bring you supplies and ask how you’re doing can mean a lot to someone in that situation.
Everyone we checked on needed some combination of food, batteries, water, tissues, toilet paper, etc. Some people in our group even took cellphones uptown to re-charge and then brought them back to their owners.
There’s no telling when the lights will go back on. The city is hoping for this weekend, but there are no guarantees.
For those wishing to help go to: http://archive.constantcontact.com/fs166/1101419472672/archive/1111424942067.html
Please lend a helping hand!