Adam Goodman spent Friday afternoon threading his way up darkened staircases to reach older people stranded by power failures in the high-rises of Midtown East. Maribeth Dono baked banana bread and cupcakes for a Girl Scouts bake sale to benefit a shelter in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Tammy Shapiro helped manage a swirl of volunteers arriving at a relief distribution center in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, sending them out to battered neighborhoods.
Across the city, New Yorkers who had found each other through Facebook and Twitter, churches and community groups, City Hall and local elected officials, tried in ways small and large to ease the devastation left by Hurricane Sandy. Several volunteers said the relief provided by their small-scale community efforts was the first to arrive in some of the most hard-hit parts of the city, outpacing large organizations like the Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Still, volunteers reported that the immediate needs seemed to dwarf the on-the-ground efforts.
As Mr. Goodman, 25, made his way up staircases on Friday using his iPhone as a flashlight to deliver hot meals to homebound elderly for Chabad, the Orthodox Jewish movement, he said he saw no other such relief efforts in the warren of towers of Midtown East. In Lower Manhattan, where 150 volunteers fanned out to help people in middle-income complexes without power, Julie Menin, the former councilwoman who helped organize the effort, described the situation as “a dire emergency.”
“Some of these seniors were in tears,” she said, adding that she had noticed no organized city plan to reach them. “Many people had almost no water left. A number of them needed emergency medical attention. They were frightened to come out and go down 20 stories in the dark.”
In Brooklyn, the Occupy Wall Street movement transformed itself into an impromptu disaster relief organization, online at recovers.org. By Friday afternoon, cars were lining up and parking at all angles outside St. Jacobi Church in Sunset Park, a distribution center, to drop off food, clothing, cleaning supplies and other necessities. Volunteers packed into cars to head out to distribution locations around the city and in New Jersey.
One of the Occupy movement’s most critical outposts is in the Rockaways on Beach 113th Street, said Ms. Shapiro, an organizer. The group began working with a local organization, Yana, on Wednesday night to form a relief center, bringing blankets, fruit, pasta and burritos.
The Red Cross reported Friday that it had begun distributing food in the Rockaways, but two days earlier, the organization was nowhere in sight, Moshe Frank, 26, said. He had driven his own car down to Breezy Point from Flatbush that day, and had offered residents rides, granola bars, candles, matches and bottles of water. He had created a Web site, sandyhelp.org, where volunteers could sign up and be matched with specific tasks.
Waves of people turned up at the Good Old Lower East Side organization to deliver food and water to people who could not make it to distribution sites. Eleven artisan-food trucks sponsored by JetBlue gave out free food around the city. A Girl Scout troop set up a bake sale outside the Fort Hamilton F train stop in Windsor Terrace, wanting to help in some way, said Ms. Dono, the troop leader.
Inside the Park Slope Armory, where the bake sale proceeds would be directed, volunteers signed up with the city for eight-hour shifts to tend to hundreds of evacuated older people.
As the major relief efforts continued to move forward, there was hope that the needs would be dented. Between the National Guard, the Salvation Army and the city, Mr. Bloomberg said, “something like 290,000 meals and nearly half a million bottles of water” had been given out on Thursday alone.
But it was a sign of the continuing desperation of the situation, particularly on Staten Island, that Mr. Bloomberg’s decision to cancel the New York City Marathon was applauded by many.
Earlier, the mayor had described the race as a boon to relief, noting that the race’s sponsor, the Road Runners Club, had donated $1 million to the city’s fund. With the race called off, the mayor’s office announced via Twitter that New York Road Runners would now donate food and supplies from the marathon to hurricane relief efforts.