GOLES Goes Door to Door, Building by Building

IMG_8361Sasha von Oldershausen A volunteer gives supplies to a resident of Masaryk Towers.

Yesterday afternoon, a group of four volunteers, organized by Good Old Lower East Side, headed to the Masaryk Towers on the Lower East Side to check in with some of its elderly residents and to deliver aid. The apartment complex’s electricity had been fully restored, including the elevators, but it was still without heat and hot water.

Among the volunteers was Emily Long, a 26-year-old registered nurse from the Upper East Side, who was using her day off to help out.

Ms. Long delivered a handful of individually wrapped syringes to the eleventh-floor apartment of Daisy Rios. The 71-year-old, who suffers from diabetes, had been re-using syringes to administer her doses of insulin because she didn’t have enough to last through the week.

“I recently had open-heart surgery so I couldn’t go down the stairs,” Ms. Rios said.

IMG_8355Sasha von Oldershausen Volunteers make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
at Sixth Street Community Center.

Aside from her neighbors and the building’s board of directors, who checked in on the residents after the storm, Ms. Rios said she hadn’t received much outside help.

Mary Ostrowski, a 92-year old resident homebound on the twentieth floor, was using the flame burner of her gas stove to heat her apartment when volunteers delivered water and canned soup to her door.

“FEMA came here once before, that’s all,” she said.

In recent days, GOLES, which normally handles issues of tenants’ rights and housing preservation, has redirected all its efforts towards helping those East Village residents who were most affected by Hurricane Sandy. But first, the organization itself had to receive help.

Thursday night, Damaris Reyes, executive director of the community organization since 2005, made her way in pitch-blackness to its modest offices on Avenue B, her two children in tow. By candlelight, she managed to locate a working phone line, and used it to call a friend she knew in the Bronx who had a generator. She likened the power source’s arrival to winning the lottery.

GOLESSasha von Oldershausen Volunteers wait outside of GOLES.

By Friday, over four hundred volunteers had come to contribute to what had overnight become a massive relief effort. Saturday, somewhere between one and two thousand volunteers showed up.

“It’s taken on a life of its own,” Ms. Reyes said.

In addition to drafting flyers by hand while there were no working copy machines, volunteers went door to door, building by building, to create a record of those East Village residents who are elderly, disabled, or homebound.

“When FEMA and the National Guard delivered stuff on Thursday, that was great,” Ms. Reyes said, adding, “If you can access it or you can come down you’re good, but if you can’t, there’s a problem.”

A public housing resident herself, Ms. Reyes said, “We’re used to being forgotten, so we couldn’t forget the forgettable.”

Food Distribution InformationAnnie Fairman Food distribution information posted by GOLES.

Jose Quiles, a resident of Campos Plaza, said volunteers also went door to door there, giving away bags of food and water. “We appreciated it,” he said. “Some people really needed that. Especially the elderly and the very young really needed the supplies.”

When Con Edison restored power to parts of the complex Sunday evening, many residents hadn’t left their apartments for days, said Mr. Quiles. “The hallways were dark. People were throwing garbage all over the place and the hallways were littered with junk,” he said. “But that’s been cleaned up. People were just afraid to come out.”

Mr. Quiles said many visitors were shocked by the conditions they encountered, including families huddling together to stay warm. “Even when the volunteers and cops were coming around, asking if anyone needs help, you could see in their eyes that they thought, ‘Woah, this is not right.’”