SANDY ONE YEAR LATER: Red Hook continues to fight back and build bridges

October 29, 2013 Heather Chin
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When Superstorm Sandy’s floodwaters began to recede, the Red Hook Initiative (RHI) remained standing as a community center and beacon of hope for the thousands of residents stranded in city public housing without or without enough heat, electricity, food, water and supplies.

RHI staff transformed their offices inside 767 Hicks Street into a warming center, donation drop-off for food and clothing, a charging area for electronics, and an information and volunteer hub.

Volunteers began streaming in, walking up stairwells to check on disabled and elderly residents, delivering food, providing a friendly face to talk with, and even providing basic medical check-ups and treatment. Local businesses began coordinating cleanup days and even created a benefit cookbook called All Hands on Deck, to help support struggling small business owners.

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As more volunteers and donations arrived, a nonprofit called Red Hook Volunteers formed to help organize, as well.

“We funded 60 businesses and lost 15, but it’s great to see smiling faces breaking bread and coming together,” said Jovan Burch, executive director and co-founder of the group, which operates out of a storefront at 360 Van Brunt Street.

Now, a year later, the power is back on, but the mold and flood insurance claims remain.

“[Sandy was] devastating, but there were also moments of beauty,” said Jill Eisenhard, executive director of RHI. “Red Hook did what Red Hook does.”

Eisenhard noted another consequence of the storm: deferred education, exacerbating already low graduation rates (27 percent in the Red Hook Houses), and high unemployment rates among 17-29 year olds (79 percent in the Red Hook Houses).

To that end, RHI has launched the 500 Futures Campaign, which will work to ensure support of 500 individuals as they pursue finishing high school, going to college and eventually getting a job.

The experience of working together as a community for the community has been invaluable, added Anna Ortega-Williams, director of training and evaluation at RHI. They have also learned public speaking, disaster management, compassion, and lessons in justice.

As Deputy Inspector Jeffrey Schiff, the former commanding officer of the 76th Precinct, noted, crime was “nonexistent” in Red Hook during and after the storm.

To learn more about RHI and Red Hook Volunteers, visit and

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