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Occupy Wall Street & Local Community Provide Thanksgiving Feast at St. Mark’s Church

November 24, 2012 Comments off

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On Thursday several hundred people showed up at the church in lower Manhattan to enjoy a holiday feast provided by affiliates of Occupy Wall Street, as well as church members and people in the nearby communities.

The idea was advertised to provide relief for victims of Hurricane Sandy, but organiser Jessica Alfreds said “there’s a lot of people in this neighbourhood who just on a regular day have a hard time coming up with three meals a day,” including the homeless, who made up a good portion of the visitors in the afternoon. Among the Sandy survivors was a widow¬† in her 70s from the Ukraine named Jenny, a resident of Brighton Beach and US resident since 1992. Unable to return to her apartment since the evacuation by police last month, she has been living with friends in a temporary space. Jenny’s apartment building, which was featured in the NY Daily News is contaminated with a “toxic brew” of fuel and seawater, and this was as of the article’s printing on November 18 (see here).

Not only is she among the most vulnerable, but she has few options available to her. “It’s too dangerous to come back,” Jenny said of the building. Te Daily News headline called it “Stinkiest building in Brooklyn,” and it had “nauseating fumes” that cause people to “gag,” which can lead to a whole host of health problems. To add to that is the fact he building remains without heat or electricity. Though initially unaware of the meal, she was asked to go inside by a woman on the street. After sitting down to eat, she said of the Thanksgiving meal, “I’m so thankful up to tears there’s an event.”¬† This is not the only disaster Jenny has lived through. Jenny is a survivor of the German and Soviet occupations of Ukraine during and after WWII, and she was present in Ukraine when the Chernobyl nuclear reactor exploded, spewing radioactive isotopes into the atmosphere in 1986. Jenny does not know where she will go on Sunday once the family she is staying with has to leave, but left the church with a bitter-sweet smile, hoping for better days.

Among the numerous volunteers, including a number of them who met organisers for the first time as they delivered food from as far away as Long Island, was Deb from Queens, who brought along her two young daughters, Rachel and Arielle. They had carpooled with five other people to deliver blankets, three of which were paid for with funds of Deb’s friend in Canada who was eager to help. When taking a much needed break and to have a bite to eat, one of the girls said the food was “nice” and that she “love[s] helping people.” And help feed a number of people they did.

The church, once the former property of the last Dutch governor of New Amsterdam Peter Stuyvesant and home to his final resting place, saw at least several hundred people get fed, including a number of African Americans – and Mr. Stuyvesant might be rolling in his grave if he knew the church was serving free black people, himself a slave owner and no friend of Africans. How things have changed. Those who were there expressed a sense of solidarity and community surprising to some as it was the first time many had met each other. When governor of New York, Daniel Thompkins asked the legislature to outlaw slavery by 1827 in a gradual way, which was acted upon and made law. He lies in the same churchyard, not far from Mr. Stuyvesant – the former a reminder of the way things once were and the latter a voice for change in some ways that people from Occupy might admire. As what is left of Occupy strives to help the less fortunate and the poor, he sheer diversity of the crowd is a testament to the sort of change that is already taking place from helping survivors in Read Hook or Far Rockaway to just average people on the street in Manhattan, including doing so at great personal risk as they are constantly exposed to a mix of toxic dust, asbestos, lead paint, gypsum and a host of other contaminants. This is the change the government and NGO’s like the Red Cross have largely failed to bring.

Staff Reporter

Civis Journal

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