Hurricane Shelter I.S. 88 in Morningside Heights turned down Columbia students’ donated bags of canned food and tons of bottled water on Oct. 31.
Shelter administrators said they don’t accept food and water for safety reasons.
“We contacted the shelter before,” said donation organizer Marilyn He, a junior at Columbia College. “They said they definitely need food and water.”
After organizing donations via Facebook and carrying the donations to the shelter lobby with a fully loaded trolley, the shelter accepted only the clothes and towels the students had collected. A manager at the I.S. 88 shelter told students that he is responsible for the safety of the food, particularly with consideration for allergies and pollution.
More than 120 people are currently living in the I.S. 88 hurricane shelter, at 215 W. 114th St. Many of them moved from downtown, where there was no power during the hurricane. The shelter provides three meals a day with sufficient food and water given by the government.
“It’s discouraging,” said Dan Lynn, a senior at Columbia University and the director of CAVA, a student-run Columbia University Emergency Medical Service corporation. “We thought any hurricane shelter would be in need for water. But it’s good to hear that they have good supply. They have water that can be stored in five years.”
EMS ambulance driver Dan McConnell volunteered to drive the donations from Columbia to the shelter in Harlem after he saw a post on Facebook.
“They are asking for cars to help with the transportation,” McConnell said. “We have two ambulances, and one is not in service sometimes. We figured the ambulance is perfect to load a bunch of goods, carrying a bunch of people.”
McConnell said EMS took only four hours to make the decision to help Columbia students. “As EMS, we are trained to respond to emergencies, and this is also kind of emergency we can help out.”
“Hurricane Sandy didn’t hit the campus very hard. Students basically were stuck on campus,” Marilyn He said. “Everyone wants to volunteer and doesn’t really know how to do it. I realized that I have all the canned food and bottled water sitting in my room. I thought why don’t we just collect them and donate to people who need it.”
Donations were collected on campus from Wednesday morning to Thursday evening. The shipment brought to the I.S. 88 on Wednesday evening was the first wave; he said she planned to do it again on Thursday evening.
“All the hurricane shelters can’t accept the food and water, as it’s kind of like a policy thing. We have to find somewhere else, like a church or food bank,” said Ben Ramalanjaona, president of Beta Theta Pi fraternity, who offered the lobby of Beta House to be the location for Columbia University donations.
“All the Columbia Housing has safety rules, you can’t have lots of containers of food gathering in the lobby, there’re a lot administrative staff and paperwork to go though,” Ramalanjaona said. “You can’t make this work in a day. We are private property, we have our own rules, so I think Beta House is a good place for this.”
Ramalanjaona shopped Monday afternoon for the 18 brothers living in the Beta House before Hurricane Sandy. “When I shopped, the bottled water and bread ran out,” he said.
Beta House spent $90 on almost 50 cans of food, like tuna and beans. “I ate 10 cans in two days. Other brothers ate some. I gave all the left for donations, like half of the box,” Ramalanjaona said.
A volunteer sign-up sheet outlined shifts for the brothers to watch the donations in the lobby. Ramalanjaona and Marilyn He gathered dozen of bottled water cases and several bags of cans from students.
“Some students even buy food from the market to donate, I can tell from the Westside plastic bags and the shopping receipt,” he said.
Marilyn He called several organizations to check if they can accept food and water donations. When she and Ramalanjaona headed out for the shelter, they didn’t expect they would go back with the still fully loaded ambulance. After some effort, the second wave of donation will be going to the Bowery Mission, according to a Facebook update.