I spent the afternoon out in Rockaway Beach. It’s a wreck out there. The whole community is devastated. Of course, there’s still no power—the 20 story public housing across the street has no elevators and no running water. This means the toilets don’t flush and residents are using the pitch black stairways as bathrooms. It’s horrible, this strange mix of modern amenities meets the third world. We bought groceries and other things we thought people could use and packed up my car and headed out. My friend Anthony had a connection at a church, but it was so chaotic. Then we stumbled across the National Guard/Salvation Army station and there were military types surrounding government boxes full of food and other supplies. It was by far the least popular of the stations we saw. The biggest problem we found in looking for opportunities to help was the lack of organization. We showed up at a station to help, but nobody had stepped up in those stations to direct the operation. This turned into chaos and a lot of help just wanting to do something sitting around feeling frustrated. We finally stumbled across another church. When we approached the church, a very busy gentleman was directing the operation. His name was Jose. I saw that people were cooking food. I asked if I could help. I’m a damn fine griller. And in fact, there was a grill available. We brought some charcoal so I fired up the grill. Over the course of the afternoon, I probably cooked meals for 50 people or so. But that meant I was manning the grill and mostly observing the situation. Jose was the rock of that operation.
In disaster situations like this, by far the most important aspect of the operation is organization and delineation of duty. This takes leadership. And grassroots, spontaneous operations like the ones we saw today, although they mean well, need clear leadership. It’s less about available resources and people, and more about operationalizing the help to deliver the right services and goods to the right people at the right time. As the afternoon went on, help and supplies were streaming in, and Jose was directing everything running a tight ship. As I was manning the grill, I wanted to get to know Jose. He was so busy doing such a great job, I didn’t want to bother him and his two adolescent sons he recruited to help him. But I did find out that he lives in the 20-story project across the street with no power and smelling like human excrement. I wonder what he does for a living? I can only assume he’s underemployed. But he ran such a tight ship that led to hundreds of people getting food, water, and clothing. If I had a job for Jose in my company, I would have hired him on the spot. I hope someday we can better identify the leaders of every community and give them what they need to optimize their lives.
Jose will be back at the church in Rockaway tomorrow at 7am and operations will resume until 4pm tomorrow. The church is located at Beach 38th Street and Beach Channel Drive. They need help. If you’re in NYC and can make it out there tomorrow, please go. It’s intense, but worth it.