Jenny Adams, 32, is a freelance writer and photographer living in New York’s Alphabet City neighborhood on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. A transplant from Birmingham, Adams found herself and her community inundated by the winds and floodwaters of Superstorm Sandy on October 29, and left with destruction and without power for days.
As her neighbors reeled from the blow of the largest Atlantic hurricane in recorded history, Adams decided to do something about it. She started a crowd funding project to help put people back on their feet. By the way, Jenny Adams is the daughter of Weld contributor Cathy Adams, and she has lived in Alphabet City, on the corner of 8th and Avenue D, for three and a half years.
Weld: How did you come to move there from here?
Adams: I’ve moved around quite a bit, and I’ve lived in six other cities. New York always appealed to me, I think partially because I was curious if I could actually move there and be successful in such a large, at times crazy, place. I moved up in 2009 for what was supposed to only be 3 months. I fell in love and just never left.
Weld: When the storm hit, how were you personally affected?
Adams: When the storm hit, we didn’t think it was going to be that bad at first. It was a lot of wind, not much rain and we were kind of all laughing that it was going to possibly be another Irene–i.e. a whole lot of drama without much show. We were eating dinner that night at 8 p.m. and watching a movie when the transformer blew on 14th Street. It was this incredibly loud explosion that shook the windows and the entire sky turned green and sparks started shooting up. Then the lights went out–in every building, all at once. It’s something I’ll never forget. Watching the entire island of Manhattan go black at the same time is incredibly disconcerting.
We put on rain gear around 9 p.m. and decided to go outside. Probably not the smartest move I’ve ever made in my life, but we got to the first floor and water was pouring up the stairs from the basement. Our basement has a laundry room, a three-bedroom apartment and several offices. So, when I say it was coming up from the basement to the first floor, I’m talking about 10 feet of flood water swamping everything down there.
Outside, the water was already chest deep on Avenue C and rising towards D, where our building is. We managed to get through on a clear street to go and join some friends of ours. Everyone crowded in this one bar that was in a higher part of the neighborhood. There was no power, but there were cans of beer and other people. It felt much safer being all together. Someone started playing Beatles songs on an accordion and we all started singing. I think there were probably close to 200 people in the bar. Outside it was nothing but people running and yelling, police sirens and ambulances trying to get through the floodwaters.
By midnight, the waters had begun to recede a bit. By morning they were gone, but the damage was everywhere, including our building. Our super lived in that apartment in the basement and he lost everything he owned that night. I ended up having to move out for 12 days. We had no power, heat, water or internet anywhere in Lower Manhattan. I just got power back night before last, but our heat is still iffy.
Weld: How did the crowd sourcing idea originate? How will you distribute the money?
Adams: The fund originated from a discussion on how to help our super. We felt horrible for him, and on top of losing everything, he was working round the clock to pump out the water and get Con Edison in there, so we could all have power again. He’s an amazing man and I honestly don’t know where he found the stamina or energy to do what he did these last two weeks.
I started the fund online and in 4 hours, we had $600. My original goal was just to clear $1,000 and give it to him. Then people in the neighborhood started talking about how people needed blankets, elderly were trapped in buildings with no heat, kids didn’t have clean drinking water, so we put the fundraising goal at $10,000.
If you had asked me that first day if I thought we would raise $10,000, I would have told you “Never.” We are $400 short of the goal as I type this and I expect we will hit it by tomorrow (Saturday) morning. We’ve been averaging $1,000 per day in donations from around the world. I had someone donate from England a few days ago.
The money is going to anyone who comes to me needing everyday items. I’ve purchased batteries, flashlights, coats, sweaters, scarves and more blankets than I could even count. Our main goal is to keep our neighbors who are still without power (and there are literally thousands of them in the Lower East Side alone) warm and as comfortable as possible till the buildings get up and running again.
We are aiming to hand people what they need directly so that they don’t have to apply with FEMA or stand in some long line with the Red Cross. I think those workers are doing an outstanding job, but sometimes, grassroots is an easier approach when you have people in immediate crisis. We’ve also purchased rice and beans and cooked a hot meal for 500 that we sent to some of the more battered regions like Red Hook.
Weld: How much have you raised so far? Is there a cutoff or how will you know when to end it?
Adams: I’ve raised $9,671 at this point tonight. It will end at $10,000. I have spent roughly $4,000 already on supplies and handed them out. I am going to give my Super $1500 to help get his life back on track and the rest will continue to go out when people email me or text me with direct needs.
Weld: Anything else you want to say about your effort or what’s happening there in NY?
Adams: I’ve lived in a lot of places–New Zealand, Montana, South Carolina, and New Orleans, to name a few. I’ve been very blessed, and I’ve met a lot of people. It’s amazing how people touch your life in different ways and at different points. It’s totally incredible now to see them all coming back into my life through giving to this fund as a group. It’s one of the more rewarding things I’ve ever done to hand a person with no power a blanket and a jacket and a hot meal, and to see how far those seemingly small things go towards making them feel like this crisis won’t last forever.
I’ve never loved any community in any town I have ever called home like I love Alphabet City. I doubt after this I ever will. And to all those people out there who gave money and time for us in the wake of Sandy, you have my never-ending gratitude and thanks.
To donate to Jenny Adams’ project, visit this site: http://www.gofundme.com/1g96zs?utm_campaign=Emails&utm_source=sendgrid.com&utm_medium=email