Occupying Sandy: Hurricane relief effort relies on South Portland, Scarborough shoppers
SOUTH PORTLAND — Thanksgiving road trips and Black Friday shopping were a common tableau last week.
Add stunning scenes of devastation and a truckload of donated supplies, and you have the weekend experienced by several Portland and South Portland residents.
Dawn Eve York, Mike Anthony and William Hessian were in the cab of a 26-foot rental truck that left Scarborough Friday night, Nov. 23, destined for the Rockaways, on the Atlantic Ocean side of Queens, N.Y.
Inside the truck was donated food, water, clothing, and other supplies collected Friday afternoon outside stores in South Portland and Scarborough. Most of the material came from shoppers at the Wal-Mart on Gallery Boulevard in Scarborough, York said.
"We had workers coming out and thanking us for being there," she said. "A lot of mothers were coming out with diapers and baby food, almost like they were waiting for someone to do this."
York, the mother of two boys, has been collecting and delivering items since early this month. She joined forces with Occupy Maine members to expand the efforts last week.
"It seemed liked no one was talking about it anymore," she said about why she started her own relief work. "I started getting reports back from a friend, Alan Porter, and hearing about devastation."
For several weeks, York drove collected donations to a relief center operated by Queens-based You Are Never Alone, also known by its YANA acronym. By arriving and leaving in darkness, York said she did not fully understand the scope of storm damage within a block of the relief center.
"It was sort of surreal," she said. "It didn't feel like I was in the U.S."
Kara Oster, a Portland resident and Occupy Maine member who helped collect items last Friday and joined York, Anthony and Hessian later during the weekend, has made several trips to Queens.
"You don't know what the damage is really like," she said. "It's destroyed, debris is everywhere."
York, Hessian and Anthony and the materials arrived Saturday, after more stops to collect donations in New Hampshire. Hessian said a room was set aside at YANA to distribute supplies at no cost – and everything was gone within about four hours.
Once the supplies were gone, the group gathered other clothing items and gave them away from the back of the truck.
Like York, Hessian was making his first daylight trip to Queens, and he recorded his impressions in his blog. Close to the relief center, a grate over the entrance was all that was left of a beauty parlor.
"It is breathtaking to see what nature can do and to think of the sadness and pain this must have caused," he said. "I could just imagine going to this beauty shop and now it is just rubble. I was really overwhelmed."
The group was also assisted by Occupy Maine members, including Porter, who was already in New York as the Occupy movement morphs into Occupy Sandy. It is a natural progression, Oster and Anthony said.
"It's almost easier to help people than do something for yourself," Anthony said.
At the relief center and walking through the neighborhood, York said she had striking conversations with storm victims.
"I spoke with one mother trying to do the best she could for her kids (who) was glad we could bring baby food and hats for her kids," she said.
As she watched one family trying to remove debris, York said she learned people are needed as much as materials to help the storm recovery.
"The biggest thing they need is people for the clean-up. They don't have enough hands down there," she said.
York and Occupy members intend to continue smaller-scale deliveries. Recovery efforts organized by the Occupy movement can be viewed online. Locally, donations can be made online or from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily at the State Street Congregational Church, 159 State St. in Portland.