A Massive Outpouring Of Support In North Brooklyn For Puerto Rico Relief

A Massive Outpouring Of Support In North Brooklyn For Puerto Rico Relief
(Paul Stremple/BKLYNER)

EAST WILLIAMSBURG – Last night, deep in industrial East Williamsburg, nearly one hundred people toiled away under the bright fluorescent lights of a sweltering warehouse on Randolph Street, moving mountains of goods donated for Hurricane Maria relief and preparing them for shipment. The cavernous building was filled to the brim with donations and the sounds of voices calling out, of music blasting from speakers. It was the heart of the North Brooklyn community—beating for Puerto Rico.

Just weeks after residents across Bushwick and Williamsburg pitched in to send aid to Florida and the victims of Hurricane Irma, they rallied again to support Puerto Ricans after the destruction of Hurricane Maria. Pastor Jason Ayala, a key organizer for the first drive, had promised “even bigger plans for Puerto Rico.” He wasn’t wrong.

(Paul Stremple/BKLYNER)

Even with the immense amount of donations, Assemblywoman Maritza Davila—decked out in a “United for Puerto Rico” t-shirt—wasn’t surprised at all. Her office has spearheaded both efforts in District 53.

“Our community is very giving and very loving—when we have ordeals like this, we come together,” she said. Davila herself was born in Puerto Rico, and was happy to see Brooklynites responding. “We are very blessed… people are giving and giving and giving.”

On the main floor of the warehouse, crates upon crates of drinking water were being stacked and organized onto pallets, wrapped for transit and staged outside the door.

(Paul Stremple/BKLYNER)

Lines of volunteers sorted through food—boxes of canned goods and bags of rice and beans piled precariously high on top of tables, under tables and crammed everywhere in between.

Flashlights and batteries and clothing, stacks of clothing, had all poured in from the neighborhoods and were now being sorted and boxed up by an army of workers.

(Paul Stremple/BKLYNER)

Deep in the stacks of water, stretching to the back of the warehouse, volunteers unable to move through the abundance of charity resorted to tossing boxes to each other in high arcs over mountains of Poland Spring and Gatorade, a spontaneous refutation through teamwork of Trump’s singularly odd paper towel-tossing debacle in Puerto Rico.

Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez of New York’s 7th District stopped by the warehouse, cheering on the volunteers before heading out on a mission of her own:

“I’ll be back in Washington fighting Donald Trump, getting him to do what he needs to do,” she said.

While Congress is set to pass a $29 billion relief package, with $13 billion earmarked for FEMA, Congresswoman Velazquez wanted more. “It’s a short term package—we need to pass a robust recovery package of $40 billion for Puerto Rico,” she said, going on to explain that losses in Puerto Rico were estimated at $80-90 billion.

The Congresswoman said that this was an opportunity to rebuild infrastructures in Puerto Rico, and to build a power grid that will support the island properly.

(Paul Stremple/BKLYNER)

Even as she spoke about power, chaplains from the New York State Chaplains Task Force pulled up with a truck full of portable generators, piling out of their cars and diving right in to help, shoulder to shoulder with members of the carpenters union, officers of the 83 Precinct, and members of the Cooper Street Community Association, just to name a few.

Over 25 community groups were represented in the effort, said Paula Melendez, who had run point on the effort for Assemblywoman Davila’s office. That effort meant making announcements and calls and putting in long, long hours—even going door to door, letting residents know about the drive.

“I couldn’t be more proud of this outcome,” Melendez said, “Our community has spoken.”

(Paul Stremple/BKLYNER)

As the work continued into the evening, Sal Polizzi, owner of local favorite Tony’s Pizzeria, pulled up with his employees to deliver more than 40 fresh, hot pizzas for everyone working.

Polizzi delivered encouragement along with nourishment, addressing the group: “We’ve got a lot of family out in Puerto Rico, they’ve heard what you’re doing and they’re inspired—keep up the hard work!”

But people kept working away, too busy to grab a slice, until organizers managed to coax them into taking a break to get some food while it was hot. A few people handed out coupons in addition to the hot food, good for a free slice and dessert at Tony’s in the future—another contribution and thank you from a community institution.

Community response was the theme of the night, with volunteers eager to praise how businesses and groups responded: the 83rd and 90th precincts, Community Board 4, the clergy, the Knickerbocker Merchants Association—even from as far away as Staten Island and Long Island. “We’ve got stuff coming from Jackson Heights,” a volunteer crowed.

(Paul Stremple/BKLYNER)

Volunteers had begun to show up at 2:30 in the afternoon, even though the event was scheduled for after work, and they stayed until 11:00 pm. Yet with the amount of donations, work remains, and Assemblywoman Davila’s office has put out the call for another volunteer day tomorrow, Saturday, October 7, from 11:00 am – 6:00 pm.

Despite the heat, despite the staggering stories of destruction coming from the news and from family members in Puerto Rico, the vibe was positive. People were happy to help, eager to share their time and contribute to a real sense of community.

Leaving the warehouse, I passed a group crowded around a phone, making a Facebook Live video, extolling the effort put forth as they thanked those involved and encouraged others to keep donating if they could. They signed off the video all smiles their last message clear: Puerto Rico se levanta—Puerto Rico will rise!


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