Volume 75, Number 16 | September 07 - 13, 2005

At the Katrina aid sidewalk sale on Christopher St. last weekend.

From sidewalk sales to marine rescuers, helping New Orleans

By Ronda Kaysen

Katherine Marlowe wasted no time fundraising for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Within 48 hours of the disaster, she and a friend were collecting donations for the American Red Cross from her Greenwich Village stoop.

The federal government could learn a lot about speedy responses from Marlowe and Jessica Petrow-Cohen. The two friends are only 9 years old.

In the weeks since Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, New Yorkers have been cobbling together relief efforts of their own, with some heading down to the affected areas and others looking for ways to raise much-needed cash.

“We want to see what we can do outside of writing checks,” said Rosalie Joseph, a founding member of Battery Park City Cares, a nonprofit organization established in the wake of last year’s tsunami in Asia. Since early last week, her organization has been gearing up to respond to the Gulf Coast disaster. “I would love to see this as a full Downtown effort and not just a Battery Park City effort,” said Joseph three days after the hurricane. “We need to sit down as a community and share ideas.”

After the tsunami, B.P.C. Cares reached out to Peraliya, Sri Lanka, one of the most devastated cities. With the proceeds from fundraising efforts, the organization purchased 70 bicycles for the local residents, many of whom had no form of transportation after the disaster. “Now they have a way to get on with their lives,” Joseph said, adding that “things are not much better there than they were a month after the disaster.”

With a new disaster much closer to home, Joseph worries about how her organization will be able to stretch its resources to help those in the United States without neglecting its “sister city” in Sri Lanka. “It’s so overwhelming,” she said. “We can’t do everything.”

On Wednesday night, B.P.C. Cares and the volunteer B.P.C. Community Emergency Response Team will co-host a community forum to gather ideas for how to approach this disaster.

For New Yorkers with emergency rescue skills, attention was focused southward. On Saturday, B.P.C. CERT sent six marine-rescue-trained members to Annapolis, Md., to retrieve 20 rescue boats and transport them to Louisiana. The boats arrived in New Orleans yesterday and the team, which also includes two auxiliary Coast Guard members, has been assigned a sector of the city to search for survivors and the dead.

It took the team nearly a week to assemble a response because “of logistical preparations,” said Sidney Baumgarten, chief of B.P.C. CERT. “All these bits and pieces had to be put together.”

CERT teams are trained by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is now controlled by the Department of Homeland Security. Homeland Security has not called up any of the nation’s 1,700 CERT teams yet. The Battery Park City team, which also has a skilled medical team awaiting an assignment, is going as a private group.

Although Baumgarten agrees with President George Bush that the “response has been inadequate,” he is not as quick to hold FEMA or Homeland Security accountable for the shortcomings. “I’m sure they’re deluged with people who want to volunteer,” he said of Homeland Security’s reluctance to call up CERT teams.

The B.P.C. CERT team formed in the aftermath of 9/11. Although the CERT is eager to help in the Gulf Coast, Baumgarten said, at the same time, they don’t want to jeopardize their ability to protect Battery Park City in the event of a catastrophe closer to home. They have 152 members, and 40 prospective new members are enrolled in a September training program.

Last weekend in Greenwich Village, residents of one Christopher St. apartment building were hawking their own wares to raise money for the hurricane victims.

“Instead of going off to enjoy myself on Labor Day weekend, I said, ‘I want to help these people, I want to work hard for the money, to involve other people in it and to feel the suffering, whatever they feel, to stay in the sun for eight hours and to do it,’” said Arye Sivion, a hospital administrator at Gouverneur Hospital on the Lower East Side and a Christopher St. resident.

Sivion organized a two-day tag sale outside his 165 Christopher St. building, with building residents donating clothes, furniture and other goods from their apartments. Shoppers were encouraged to donate $10 in exchange for any item on sale. Sivion and his neighbors raised $1,340 for the American Red Cross and Habitat for Humanity. Plans for a second tag sale, in October, are already in the works.

On Greenwich St., Marlowe and Petrow-Cohen’s makeshift operation ran into a few snags. The 9-year-old girls’ homemade sign was difficult to read, and their supplies were limited — they could only weave 75 lanyards by Wednesday — but passersby were more generous than expected. One man handed Marlowe $5 and didn’t even want a lanyard.

The girls’ younger siblings chipped in, too. Marlowe’s 5-year-old brother, Tyler, made a “knotted stitch” and Petrow-Cohen’s 5-year-old sister, Caroline, made “two things.”

“Giving money will help,” explained Marlowe, who starts fifth grade at Village Community School tomorrow. “So they can have food and stuff so they don’t die. They might have lost all their money in the hurricane.”

In the end, the girls sold all their lanyards and raised $60 in two-and-a-half hours.

Marlowe has already stitched five new lanyards in anticipation of a second stoop sale. Although she is unsure if Petrow-Cohen had been able to renew her own supplies yet, Marlowe expects the two will be selling more again next Saturday. “We just keep making them,” she said.

In homage to New Orleans cuisine, Manhattan Youth, a Downtown community group, is organizing a benefit on Pier 25 at N. Moore St. in Tribeca to help the victims of the hurricane — particularly children. For $20 a head, the Sept. 9 benefit will include Southern-style barbeque and “Cajun specialties,” with some of the food and drinks provided by the A.M. Roadhouse. The proceeds will go to the American Red Cross and local youth organizations affected by the hurricane. “Community’s a very important part of American life and they need to rebuild those communities and reweave the social fabric of those communities,” said Bob Townley, Manhattan Youth’s executive director. “It’s a drop in the bucket. But if every community gets involved and picks something down there, that would be very useful. That’s our approach.”

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