AUGUSTA — Seeing images of cities inundated by floods, homes swept away or burned down and hungry people lined up for food in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, Jani Clark couldn’t stay put in Maine.
“That could have been us, if it hadn’t tracked the way it did,” she said. “We could have been on the receiving end.”
Jennifer Hutchins and Dora Bowden Oakes, of Waterville, and members of the Winthrop United Methodist Church felt the same way when they saw news about the devastation in New York and New Jersey.
“Reading everything day after day of how much they’re in need right now, Dora and I really wanted to help out in some kind of way,” Hutchins said. “These people left with the clothes that were on their backs, and they’ve got nothing.”
There have been at least three separate drives organized in the Augusta area to collect clothing, food and other supplies for Sandy’s victims. Tabitha’s Closet at Winthrop United Methodist Church wrapped up its third load of supplies on Thursday.
But even as locals organize food and supply drives to help victims, they’re also encountering a problem: where to take the items?
The Tabitha’s Closet effort hit a snag later Thursday when organizers contacted the Salvation Army and learned the organization couldn’t accept any more clothing donations, according to Sue Phillips, who manages the twice-a-year collections.
“We do have a lot of clothing, but right now we don’t have a place to take it,” Phillips said. “We may just end up hanging onto it. I feel bad about this, but the problem is they’re so overwhelmed with donations, they don’t know where to put it. We all want to do something; we will find a worthy cause for it, for sure.”
Clark, working with the Occupy movement and Augusta’s Unitarian Universalist Community Church, has already made one trip to deliver supplies to New York City. She left Augusta on Sunday with a cargo van filled one layer deep, then picked up more donations in Worcester, Mass., and Hartford, Conn.
The first place she went in New York was the Rockaways, a neighborhood of Queens that suffered some of the worst damage. Residents still do not have electricity.
“It was heart rending,” she said. “The devastation is so much more than you can see in a photo. People were standing on the side of the street, and their faces were just bereft.”
Clark delivered her cargo to St. Jacobi Church in Brooklyn, the central distribution hub for the grassroots relief effort Occupy Sandy, which was set up by Occupy Wall Street activists. The van was unloaded and reloaded with equipment to set up a new kitchen that Clark said is serving at least 6,000 hot meals per day.
Clark said one man asked her what borough of New York City she was from, and she told him she was from Maine.
“He had tears in his eyes,” she said. “He said: ‘I was a first responder on 9/11, and that sense of camaraderie that the whole country was behind us, it feels like we have that again. To know that people from Maine are behind us,’ he said, ‘I can’t tell you what that means to me.'”
Clark is collecting donations at the Unitarian Universalist church at 6 Summer St. until 2 p.m. today for a shipment down to Portland, from where it will be shuttled to New York. She also will collect supplies at the church on Sunday morning for a future shipment.
Clark is available at 582-5515 to coordinate dropoffs.
She said Occupy Sandy has received enough clothes but needs items that are consumed quickly and regularly, such as batteries, diapers, hygiene products, hand-warming packets, water and non-perishable food. Organizers are especially struggling to provide protein-rich foods, so beans and peanut butter are welcome.
The American Red Cross is asking for monetary donations because it doesn’t have the ability to sort and store food and other supplies, but Hutchins said she and Oakes wanted to help in a more tangible way.
Hutchins and Oakes set up a Facebook page, Maine Helping Sandy Victims, and invited their friends, but it just keeps growing.
“We really only expected our friends on our Facebook that were going to want to help out, and it turned out to be a lot more than that,” Hutchins said.
Hutchines and Oakes can arrange drop-offs in Augusta, Waterville, Belfast and Pittsfield. Hutchins is at 242-0799 and Oakes at [email protected]
Susan McMillan — 621-5645