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SandyBaggers Mobilize New Yorkers Into Direct Service Post-Sandy

sandybaggers

One day after Sandy struck New York, four friends and I got on a call to brainstorm.

By Divya Kapasi (Co-Founder, SandyBaggers & Founder, Goodlist.co)

Light turned to dark, a steady howl was heard through the windows and mild fear escalated to anxiety as we fumbled to find matches for our candles. Hurricane Sandy had arrived. In just a moment, New York, the city that never sleeps, fell into radio silence. After a cold, sleepless night, we awoke to no power or water and were asked to evacuate.

I filled my backpack with the bare necessities and crept down seven flights of stairs with only a flashlight guiding the way. Images of an apocalyptic New York City consumed my thoughts and I held my breath as I walked onto the streets.

I canvassed my neighborhood, which sits in the center of lower Manhattan: few power lines down, debris scattered on roads and several broken windows. I exhaled when cell service kicked in. Texts, calls and emails flooded in, each urging me to confirm my safety, but with limited battery, I only responded with a picture and note on Facebook:

“Safe & sound. Looking for shelter. Thx for well wishes family & friends! No electricity or water… going to relocate. Will update whereabouts soon. Xxoo.”

I quickly received offers for shelter and within minutes, I was crossing the Brooklyn Bridge to settle in for the next five days until power and water were restored.

It was on the heels of this experience that SandyBaggers was born. During my refuge, several friends and I shared our stories of displacement and loss. A collective sadness was building as the full extent of the storm revealed itself in the hardest hit areas. Images shared through social media depicted a third world scene and testimonials of survivors painted a picture of despair and abandonment. Chaos seemed to be surfacing around relief efforts and people’s worries mounted as another storm was in the five-day forecast.

One day after Sandy struck New York, four friends and I got on a call to brainstorm. As entrepreneurs and startup aficionados, we knew there was a way to bring support to these communities quickly, directly and effectively. The idea was simple. Use social media to leverage our existing network, bring awareness to the seemingly large gap in relief efforts, connect volunteers looking to serve and identify on-the-ground opportunities to help immediately. In just a few minutes, a Facebook page went up called SandyBaggers.

Facebook offered us a platform that we could effectively galvanize our efforts around Sandy victims. Disseminating information, connecting volunteers and assessing needs in real time are key pillars for SandyBaggers. In the same way I was able to use a single post to share my status, victims and volunteers of Sandy now had a forum to communicate with a single post.

In 48 hours, 500 fans joined our page looking for ways to help those hit hardest. In our first weekend, SandyBaggers mobilized hundreds of volunteers to help the Rockaways, Staten Island, Red Hook and LES.

We amassed thousands of pounds of donations and by week’s end, nearly 1,200 people had organically built a community dedicated to Sandy relief efforts.

Fast forward to the next weekend, SandyBaggers facilitated its largest effort to date. Uber donated three buses and City Council Speaker Quinn donated one bus. This allowed us to transport hundreds of New Yorkers looking to help rather than eat poached eggs at a Saturday morning brunch. SandyBaggers descended onto Breezy Point, Downtown Rockaways, Rockaway Beach and Staten Island.

It is painfully clear that our work was far from complete. War-zone conditions remind me of the outcome I feared most during my own exodus. Families are living without heat, mold is growing, kids are out of school, the elderly are in shelters and carpets are still soaking wet. Donation centers are overwhelmed and streets are filled with sand.

Bottom line: our work is not done. SandyBaggers will continue tirelessly to support those in need. Through existing social media channels and innovative solutions, we will continue to find ways to provide quick and effective relief to disaster victims, Sandy or otherwise.

SandyBaggers is a grassroots social media movement that has coordinated and galvanized hundreds of volunteers and truckloads of donated materials for Super-storm Sandy relief efforts.

Founding Core Team:

  • Antonia Dunbar – Prance Co-Founder/Partner
  • Daniel Husserl – AELLON Co-Founder/CEO
  • Divya Kapasi – Goodlist.co Founder/CEO
  • Matthew Kochman – Revere Ventures Founder/CEO
  • Jonathan Swerdlin – Fdbk.com Co-Founder

Press Coverage

Women 2.0 readers: Have you mobilized a community for a cause? Let us know who you are and what you’re working on in the comments.

About the guest blogger: Divya Kapasi is Co-Founder of SandyBaggers and the Founder of GoodList.co. She is dedicated to bringing innovation and efficiency to socially responsible enterprises and is launching GoodList to serve as a platform for investors, individuals and organizations to collaborate. Divya has held senior level positions in e-commerce companies. She believes technology will bring the solutions needed to solve the world’s biggest social and environmental challenges facing us today.