Tuesday November 20, 2012

KEITH WHITCOMB JR.

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- Local efforts to help victims of Hurricane Sandy have been met with a flood of donations of materials and time, and some of those who’ve made the trip to the hard-hit areas of New York and New Jersey have likewise encountered a swell of volunteer support. Much of that assistance came from an offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street movement and from various Rotary clubs.

Debby Goldman, of Bennington, who last week helped bring an 18-foot box truck full of supplies to New York, said that on the way an additional hurdle was encountered: Where would the donations go?

Goldman said she helped coordinate collection of the items from different places around Bennington and Shaftsbury during the week of Nov. 12. She said there were enough donations to fill the truck completely and then some. That was good, she said, as it was a scramble to get the collection points organized and to secure the truck.

"Even before we began collecting, I had a huge problem. I couldn’t find any drop-off location down there that would take clothing, and, unfortunately, that was easily 75 percent of what we received," she said in a letter.

Goldman said it was someone she sees at yoga classes who told her about Occupy Sandy, an all-volunteer group organizing supply drop-off points, then getting the supplies to distribution centers based on what those centers need.

According to an Associated Press report published Nov. 9, Occupy Sandy formed one day after Hurricane Sandy hit, at the St. Jacobi Church in Brooklyn, N.Y. Occupy Sandy used the same social networking services, Twitter and Facebook, as the Occupy Wall Street group, but instead of protesting financial practices they planned the moving of supplies.

Goldman said she made use of a website the Occupy Sandy people use to list their drop off points. The site, www.interoccupy.net, currently lists about 151 sites. The one Goldman found is based in Ronkonkoma, N.Y. She said many locations being run by the Occupiers have other things available, too, such as medics.

Goldman said the volunteers in Ronkonkoma all lived in that area and told her it was much the same at the other points. She said they moved supplies quickly and efficiently and she was able to see the donated items get to the people they were intended to help.

"Our stuff wasn’t there a half hour before another box truck arrived to take it all to their south shore distribution centers, even going out as far as Montauk. No sitting around in warehouses or on shelves," she wrote.

In Bennington, a Facebook page has been set up called "Bennington Relief Efforts for Sandy," with the idea it can be used as a hub to organize local relief efforts.

Kristin Reed, president of the Bennington Rotary Club, helped organize the filling of a 35-foot bus that left the weekend before Goldman began collecting. "It made it down half way, more or less," Reed said. After the bus broke down, U-Haul trucks were used to make the planned destinations with Rotary clubs in those areas lending support and taking in supplies. Reed said the supplies that were collected through Rutland, Manchester, and Bennington rotaries made it to their destinations a little later than planned.

Reed said the Rotary is no longer actively seeking donations, but now they need a vehicle that can the rest of the supplies shipped. She said she has been working with Goldman to secure such a vehicle. She said the first one to hear something will alert the other.