November 29, 2012
Transit Workers Union Local 100 members played a pivotal role in restoring mass transit service within days after Sandy’s wrath. They’re also playing an important role in restoring shattered communities by volunteering their time and donating crucial supplies to people in the Far Rockaways and Coney Island.
On Saturday, November 24 Local 100 transit workers and members of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists served hot food and handed out to community residents a variety of goods from the offices of Urban Neighborhood Services on Mermaid Avenue. Charles Jenkins, Local 100’s Director of Organizing, said transit workers have been dropping off supplies at bus depots and train barns daily, which are then picked up weekly to ready for drop-off on Saturday mornings.
“Labor and the community have been coming together for the past four weeks to lend a helping hand to the communities devastated by Sandy. We understand that we can’t expect someone to come in and rescue us. We have to do it ourselves, and that’s what we’re seeing, people volunteering by giving up their time on Saturdays.”
“This is an effort of all transit workers pitching in, can by can, sock by sock, coat by coat,” said Jenkins.
Donald Afflick, President of the CBTU, said the help that Local 100 and other union members are lending are very important for giving people hope in the community.
“We as New Yorkers need to get together. When one of us is in trouble, we need to all come together to help individuals in need.”
The lifeline the federal government is offering will prove crucial for New York to rebuild. Afflick chuckled when he mentioned the differing views of the role of government expressed by the candidates during the just concluded presidential election.
“During the campaign, I laughed when I heard analysts and commentators ridicule President Obama for being a community organizer after college. Well, this is what community organizing is all about. It’s about going into the community and helping those people who can’t help themselves,” said Afflick.
Just as Afflick finished, a city bus pulled up in front of the community-based organization’s offices and when the doors opened, volunteers streamed out with boxes of supplies. As volunteers brought the supplies into the office, the line of Coney Island residents grew quickly to pick up clothing, blankets and eat lunch.
Diane, who didn’t want to provide her surname, has been a Coney Island resident for 30 years. She lives in subsidized housing near the now-ravaged boardwalk. The lights in her apartment went back on four days after the storm, but heat wasn’t restored for almost two weeks.
“I’m a diabetic and I had to wear a lot layers to stay warm. I’m just happy to be alive.”
She also said she’s very grateful for the goods donated and Local 100’s volunteering efforts.
“We really need the help.”
A bus driver for 18 years, Rich works out of the Ulmer Park Bus Depot and drives the express route through Coney Island. He’s been volunteering every Saturday and is hopeful about the recovery efforts.
“You’ll hear from people that the government isn’t doing enough. But we can’t expect for things to return to normal overnight. I think the government learned a big lesson after [Hurricane] Katrina because FEMA seems to be doing a better job. If government helps responsible people, then responsible people will get back on their feet.”
Sally Robinson, a retired DC 37 member, asked community residents to form a single line as more and more appeared to pick up goods and a plate of hot food.
“Even though my family wasn’t affected by the storm, I’m here doing what I can. I’m helping these people because I know what it is not to have. When you’ve been there, you know what it’s all about. I don’t mind giving my time,” said Robinson.
Local 100’s Jenkins also noted that the storm’s impact on New York demonstrates conclusively the need for government support.
“I’m extremely happy that President Obama was reelected because he understands the role government has to play to revitalize communities after disasters. This is not a time for the government to say, ‘You’re on your own; defend for yourself.’ People have hope when they see government agencies doing what they can to rebuild.”