With spring break for many schools just weeks away, community organizers throughout Sandy-affected neighborhoods are preparing for a flood of student volunteers to bolster recovery efforts across the region – and they’re warning the Sanitation Department to be ready.
“It’s pretty much a consensus that the boom time for volunteers is spring break, because [students] organize through their churches, or their sororities or fraternities,” said Laura McKenna, acting executive director of Bay Improvement Group, who is involved in the Brooklyn Long-Term Recovery Group, a coalition of organizations working on Sandy recovery. “Students are brought in to do this work wherever a disaster may be, and right now that’s here. They’re going to come in from all over the place to Brooklyn, Staten Island, New Jersey and they’re going to be helping, and we need to be ready.”
Part of being ready means getting the city to accommodate a new influx of debris on city streets, as homeowners who have waited for help and warmer weather begin gutting their Sandy-ravaged homes. But the Sanitation Department’s special bulk debris pickup service in Sandy-affected communities was set to expire yesterday, Presidents Day.
On behalf of the Bay Improvement Group, McKenna penned a letter to local leaders asking them to work with the Sanitation Department to extend the service several more weeks, until the end of March when most spring break schedules end.
“Right now it looks like there’s a lull [in curbside debris], but it’s going to skyrocket in about 10 days,” McKenna said. “We’re trying to warn the powers that be that this is happening, and helping them connect the dots to head it off.”
The letter stated:
In March and April groups of volunteers–primarily church groups and students on spring break, and many from out of state–will be pouring into NYC en masse to assist homeowners affected by Superstorm Sandy with muckouts and construction.
In the process, these volunteers will be generating a lot of bulky, moldy, sewage-steeped debris that will need to be discarded.
The current deadline for DSNY pickup of bulk debris due to Superstorm Sandy is Monday, Feb. 18. After that date, homeowners will need to put such debris out on the normally designated night, or pay for a Dumpster and have it carted away.
Volunteers may not finish their work the night before regularly scheduled bulk debris pickup. At the same time, seniors, residents with disabilities, and families already strapped financially will have great difficulty getting these materials curbside without the help of volunteers.
If permitted to sit in homeowners’ yards until it can be moved curbside at a later date, this contaminated, unsanitary, unsafe debris has the potential of becoming a public health hazard.
Although a Department of Sanitation spokesperson told Sheepshead Bites they had not yet seen the letter, the spokesperson said that the department today gave a green light to extending bulk debris pickup.
“Because we lost days to snow preparations and snow fighting and the recent holidays, the Superstorm Sandy collection and cleanup will continue until further notice,” the spokesperson said. Residents do not need to call the city to schedule pickup. Bulk item collection takes place the day before a household’s regularly scheduled pickup day, and residents need only put their items on the curb.
The department could not say whether it would extend until the end of March, as requested by the Bay Improvement Group, but local elected officials are backing the request.
“It’s a very reasonable request and Sanitation should do it,” said Councilman Michael Nelson staffer Chaim Deutsch.