Community support saves stranded LES seniors

Downed trees in front of 82 Rutgers Slip. Along with scores of others in Manhattan, that building and neighboring 80 Rutgers Slip — which is populated by senior citizens — have been without electricity and water since Monday. Photo courtesy of Two Bridges Neighborhood Council.

BY SAM SPOKONY | As people across the city work to recover from the impact of Hurricane Sandy, a group of seniors trapped in a Lower East Side building — without electricity, water or adequate food supplies — are being saved from the brink of despair by community leaders, city workers and volunteers who have come to their aid.

The nearly 50 elderly tenants of 80 Rutgers Slip who didn’t leave the building — which is in Zone A, the area that was under mandatory evacuation orders before the storm hit — faced a dire situation when their lobby was flooded and power was lost on Monday night.

But since then, the Two Bridges Neighborhood Council has spearheaded a collaborative effort that is providing a vital lifeline to the ailing seniors.

“We’ve been extremely pleased with the turnout so far,” said Victor Papa, president of Two Bridges, on Wednesday afternoon.

Earlier that day, three meals for each of the 80 Rutgers tenants were delivered by the non-profit organization Citymeals on Wheels, in an arrangement arranged and overseen by Two Bridges.

And Papa explained that on Thursday, the seniors will be receiving 200 more meals from the city’s Department for the Aging.

He also said that, in an equally heroic effort, a local volunteer dropped off 60 gallons of water at 80 Rutgers on Tuesday. The water was shared between that building and the adjacent one at 82 Rutgers, which, like many other buildings in the area, is also currently without electrical power and running water.

The Two Bridges staff also bought dozens of flashlights on Wednesday for the elderly tenants, but Papa added that more are needed for that building and others in the area.

He continues to encourage area residents to donate flashlights and other supplies to 80 Rutgers, especially because current aid to the building is only an immediate response and does not constitute a consistently sustainable short-term plan. The meal deliveries, Papa stressed, will not be continuous and were secured only for the days on which the food was delivered.

Social media and other Internet resources have been vital to the swift responses to the seniors’ desperate needs, as well as to other struggling buildings within Lower East Side communities.

And an instrumental aspect of that is a new community-based volunteer website, lowereastside.recovers.org, which went online on Tuesday morning.

The site, which is the result of volunteer collaborations between Occupy Wall Street and 350.org (an environmental organization), allows area residents to communicate and organize in support of ailing neighbors, as well as allowing community organizations like Two Bridges to post requests for donations to specific buildings.

Recovers.org is a for-profit operation that licenses its software to cities and major organizations that are preparing for disasters, and was founded last year by survivors of a tornado in Massachusetts.

“It think the site will make things a lot easier during the big transition that’s going to take place between the immediate disaster response and planning for long term needs,” said Caitria O’Neill, co-founder and C.E.O. of recovers.org.

Those who wish to donate specifically to Lower East Side buildings in need can do so by visiting lowereastside.recovers.org and contacting community representatives by phone or email.

As of 5 p.m. on Wednesday, the website also had requests for donations to 46 Hester St. in Chinatown, 242 East Second St. in the East Village, and numerous other buildings in need.

Nearly 250,000 people are still without electrical power in Manhattan. On Wednesday at noon, Con Edison released a statement saying that people in Manhattan and Brooklyn who are served by underground equipment should have power back within three days.

Papa acknowledged that Con Edison’s ability to restore power will be the most important part of recovering from the impact of Hurricane Sandy, be he stressed that, for now, it’s up to Lower East Side residents to keep themselves going.

“In the end, we can’t rely on the circumstances of crisis, and the predictions of the authorities,” Papa said. “We have to rely on ourselves. We’re the ones have to live through this.”