Though the news cycle has moved on from Superstorm Sandy, just as it eventually will from the tornados that devastated Oklahoma this week, the communities affected by those natural disasters will continue to struggle to rebuild for the months and years to come.
In the Rockaways, just "15 miles from Manhattan, it's still a disaster," said Tom Webster, a partner at Mother New York, the creative agency spearheading a new project to raise money to rebuild the communities hit hard by Hurricane Sandy last winter.
The project, called Repair the Rockaways, and is a unique and creative way to fundraise. The site borrows the concept from the popular online "Farmville" game, except that by purchasing virtual "bricks"—starting at $10 for 20 bricks—you will be donating actual money to the plots of lands of your choice.
All the donations will go directly a grassroots volunteer group called Respond and Rebuild, a group of volunteers that formed a friendship while assisting in other disaster recovery efforts in Haiti and New Orleans. The group came to New York three days after the storm to put their relief expertise and organization skills to work.
Mother New York was especially inspired by Respond and Rebuild’s steadfast determination and grass roots efforts, which achieved quick and thorough repairs for the homes and businesses that were still awaiting aid from large organizations.
The response from the Red Cross and FEMA was disappointing, Webster said. They don't have the wherewithal or agility to respond in the way that is needed; there is massive bureaucracy going on there. "It just felt there were a lot of people falling through the net that should have been covered from FEMA. [Respond and Rebuild] does everyone's houses that weren't covered by FEMA."
"Looking at all the lack of response from NGOs and government, I thought what can we possibly do to help," he said. The agency helped raise money and supplies, but wanted to use their unique skill set—strategy and creativity—and so the Farmville donation concept was born.
Mother New York also worked with Occupy Sandy, whose video (below) was also a huge inspiration, Webster said.
"To me it was just a really beautiful way of talking about a disaster that sort of touched my soul," he said. "You can do really impactful amazing storytelling that is news, and then you can give people a way to react to it immediately by reaching out to one of those organization."
In the first 24 hours since launch of Repair the Rockaways, the site raised $1,800. Webster wants to keep the focus of the project on the Rockaways for the time being, but said there's definitely potential to reuse the game to aid other locations, like Oklahoma.
"I'm happy to give it away to anyone who needs it," he said. "The problem isn't going to go away. There will be another hurricane. There will be tornados in the midwest. We need to have a better way of organizing. We need to rethink how we handle disaster response."
Image via repairtherockaways.org