INSIDE A bare-bones office in the corner of an Old City union warehouse, members of the local Occupy movement are sitting in a circle beneath fluorescent lights, plotting their next move.
It's not quite the same vibe, though, as last year, when hundreds of Occupiers staked a claim on Dilworth Plaza for 56 days. No one here has a bullhorn. No one's disguising himself with a bandanna or a Guy Fawkes mask, or planning to go march against something corporate.
These seven or so people are sharing bagels and clementines, taking notes together, and earnestly discussing how to help those who lost everything in Superstorm Sandy. Later in the day, organizer Nathan Kleinman will head to Wildwood to visit people living in hotels, their homes up north destroyed by floodwaters.
"Mostly, what they need out there is volunteers. The main function of this space, in my view, should be as a volunteer hub," Kleinman, 30, tells the group gathered around him. "We shouldn't be stressing out over the stuff. We'll develop a plan to use all that stuff."
"The stuff," a common phrase in this Occupy Sandy meeting, refers to the growing volume of donations arriving from all over the country piling up in the warehouse space donated by the Transportation Workers Union Local 234. As the cleanup and recovery process evolves from New York City to Cape May County, the needs of people in the worst-affected communities evolve, too.
There are plenty of items they no longer need, such as everyday clothes and toys, and not enough of what they'll soon need, such as "muck-out" gear to clean swamped homes and construction materials to rebuild them.
"We don't need deodorant, we need drywall," says Dylana Dillon, 27, a native of Vermont who's volunteering in Philadelphia. "We need people who are willing to go out in the field and get their hands dirty."
Kleinman says nearly 2,500 people have contacted Occupy Sandy, through its website, occupysandynj.org, its Facebook page and through other social-media outlets, but only a few hundred have been able to get out in the field and work up and down the coast. There's approximately a half-dozen Occupy hubs, including Newark, Point Pleasant and Ortley Beach, where Kleinman says they're sending supplies and volunteers.
Occupy Sandy is a 24-month project working in conjunction with Occupy groups in New York, Kleinman says, and their goals go beyond bricks and mortar.
"One of the next things we'll look at is jobs, how to find jobs for all the people who lost them because of the storm," he says, touring the hall before he heads off to Wildwood.
This summer, Kleinman helped organize Occupy's national gathering on Franklin Square, with groups coming in from around the country to discuss everything from predator drones, to the election, to Occupy's future.On a sweltering July 4 night, hundreds marched toward City Hall before filtering out.
It was a little more than a year ago, when Philadelphia police evicted the Occupy encampment from Dilworth Plaza at City Hall. Local Occupy members say the group has never gone away, even if they're not marching en masse or gathering on public lands as much.
"Contrary to public perception, Occupy Philadelphia continues to be active," says Laura Murphy, an Occupy Sandy organizer from Germantown. "We're doing very real, very concrete things to make communities stronger."
Kleinman said the network created by Occupy movements all over the country has allowed the group to emerge as one of the leading relief organizations in Superstorm Sandy cleanup efforts. One organizer says they recently received a call from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's office, saying the office would refer all volunteers to Occupy Sandy. That news gets a round of "twinkles" from the group in the small office, Occupy's finger-wiggling nod of approval.
Occupy Sandy is also the reason Tish Hopkins drove 450 miles to Philadelphia with a blowup mattress and bag of clothes to volunteer.
"I was out of power for three days, out in Ohio, and it really hit me when I thought of what these people must be going through," Hopkins, a retired teacher, says inside the warehouse. "I don't have a place to sleep, but I'm going to let my life unfold for the next couple of months."