During early July’s heatwave and subsequent power outages, The Coffee Shop, North Brooklyn Mutual Aid, and more community members came together to help neighbors in need of electricity, air conditioning, and relief.
Rolling blackouts throughout the area, particularly east of McGolrick Park, left many without power or reprieve from rising temperatures. In response, The Coffee Shop at 269 Nassau Avenue extended its hours, closing at 8 PM as opposed to its usual 5 PM time to allow people a place to keep cool.
“We normally close at 5 and I saw that people were still not getting their air conditioners up and running because they had no electricity and couldn’t work from home … So I felt that I needed to do something because I have AC here, I have wifi; I also had AC in my house,” The Coffee Shop’s owner, Catherine Vera-Milligan, explained. “So when I saw that things weren’t getting better, I was originally going to stay open until 7, but then Kevin from [North Brooklyn] Mutual Aid came by and thanked me for staying open essentially as a cooling station, since you don’t need to purchase anything to sit down. So when he told me all the cooling stations in the neighborhood closed at 5, which I was kind of shocked to hear, I told him I’d stay open until 8 o’clock. And if I would’ve had a bigger crowd at 8, I would’ve stayed open even longer, because it just didn’t feel right to have when I knew that my community didn’t have.”
While Notify NYC sent a text alert urging New Yorkers to lessen their electricity usage as much as possible, Con Edison provided dry ice to those without power, and city-run cooling centers opened in the area (with limited hours and accessibility), the overall government response in North Brooklyn felt lacking, which encouraged Vera-Milligan and North Brooklyn Mutual Aid to take action. Throughout the week, North Brooklyn Mutual Aid volunteers were available to help neighbors in need and bring ice, cold water, and Gatorade to those who requested it while also connecting neighbors offering air conditioning and more.
“Ultimately what climate emergency will bring to Greenpoint and Williamsburg will require block-by-block organizing, it will require us taking care of each other. And people did that — during the blackout, we put something out on social media on June 30, but even leading up to that, people were saying ‘Hey, I’m over here, I have AC if anyone wants to come over, if anyone needs water, if anyone wants to put stuff in the fridge.’ People were stepping up to help their neighbors. We had our dispatch lines open, we didn’t have anyone call, but for that to be available was really important,” Kevin LaCherra, a coordinator of North Brooklyn Mutual Aid, said.
Ultimately, these actions are about community. Vera-Milligan and her business partner are both longtime Greenpoint residents, while LaCherra’s family has been in Greenpoint for four generations.
“I’m a Brooklyn native born and raised in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, living my entire adult life in Greenpoint; these are not just my customers, these are my friends, they’re my community,” Vera-Milligan remarked. “We offer the community a safe environment. We get people from all different walks of life, and because I grew up in the neighborhood, I want it to be a friendly place.”
“With Mutual Aid, it’s trying to create those spaces where neighbors can self-activate. You can see where it’s possible,” LaCherra noted. “Many people were activated by the Covid crisis; they saw that ultimately many of their neighbors, when the chips are down, can only rely on each other. In the long term, this is the sort of thing that it’s going to take.”
Those still in need of help can contact North Brooklyn Mutual Aid via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone at 646-389-6019.