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Hurricane Sandy — PITCHING IN, REACHING OUT
Hundreds of UFT members turn out for Day of Action
by Micah Landau | November 22, 2012 New York Teacher issue
Hundreds of UFT members, bolstered by four busloads of members of the union’s national affiliate — the American Federation of Teachers — from other parts of the Northeast region, fanned out across the city to assist with the Hurricane Sandy cleanup and recovery effort on Nov. 10, the first of several Saturday Days of Action being organized by the UFT.
About 200 volunteers, including 50 AFT members from Connecticut who brought a truckload of supplies, gathered at Coney Island’s MCU Park, joining a massive relief effort that has turned the iconic seaside home of the Brooklyn Cyclones into a hub for the distribution of supplies.
The volunteers quickly divided into work details, unloading boxes of sponges, batteries, towels, face masks, latex gloves and other cleaning supplies, stuffing them into plastic bags and passing them out to grateful neighborhood residents who waited patiently despite having to stand in line for an hour or more.
With the line moving very slowly, UFT Staff Director LeRoy Barr passed bags to UFT Vice President Sterling Roberson, who acted as a runner, getting the bags out to people far down the line.
In addition to helping staff at the supply center, volunteers cleared debris from the beach and nearby parks, cleaned up sand swept over the boardwalk and adjoining streets by the storm, conducted door-to-door outreach to residents and local businesses to assess their needs, and assisted residents who had been unable to fill prescriptions due to the storm-related blackout at Coney Island Hospital.
In Far Rockaway, around 200 members, in many cases joined by their families and students, volunteered at three different locations — two churches and a community center — across the hard-hit peninsula. They unloaded and distributed a wide array of supplies donated by the AFT and, in one location, handed out books to children.
Paraprofessional Chapter Leader Shelvy Young-Abrams and a dozen members of her executive board worked side by side with AFT Secretary-Treasurer Loretta Johnson, herself a paraprofessional.
Doreen Raftery, the first vice chair of the union’s Paraprofessional Chapter and a resident of Far Rockaway, said she had volunteered to “help my community get the things they need to survive.”
Raftery, whose son-in-law lost his home in the storm, said she had watched the storm surge through the windows of her ninth-floor apartment.
“It was a nightmare. I didn’t think we were going to make it,” she said. “I thought the sea and the bay were going to swallow us up.”
On Staten Island, roughly 500 nurses and educators, including more than 40 NYSUT members from upstate Schoharie, whom the UFT had assisted when Tropical Storms Irene and Lee devastated their upstate community last August, helped strip the ruined interiors of flood-damaged homes in Midland Beach. [See story Repaying a debt.]
UFT President Michael Mulgrew helped out in Staten Island, Coney Island and Far Rockaway over the course of the day.
Shanker Hall at UFT headquarters in lower Manhattan was transformed that day into a giant assembly line as 200 more volunteers, including AFT members from Baltimore and Philadelphia, spent the day filling more than 20,000 backpacks with badly needed school supplies to be distributed to students whose schools — and in some cases homes — had been damaged or destroyed in the flood.
Hundreds more members turned out for another UFT Day of Action at the same four locations the following Saturday, too.
Volunteering “is an absolute must,” said Raftery. “People need to come out. People here need the help.”
— Paul Schickler contributed to this story