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Occupy Wall Street has set up camp online at Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT)’s websites, using wedding registries to solicit gifts of everything from blankets to batteries to bleach for victims of Hurricane Sandy.
The group has been among the volunteers helping with disaster relief efforts since Sandy made landfall on Oct. 29, ravaging coastal communities, causing power blackouts, hobbling mass transit and leaving more than 100 dead in 10 U.S. states. On Saturday, one volunteer at a church in Brooklyn decided to use an Amazon registry, promoted by posts on Twitter Inc.’s microblogging service, to speed aid to those in need.
“My friends and I talked about how we could improve the donation system while we were walking to the store to buy some food for meals,” John Heggestuen, 25, an Occupy Sandy member who started one registry, said in an e-mail. “We have worked feverishly on this all weekend and now it is blowing up.”
In addition the list created by Heggestuen, there is also an Occupy Sandy registry on Amazon that is shipping purchases to a distribution center in Jersey City, New Jersey. Another registry on Wal-Mart’s website lists a delivery address in Brooklyn.
Occupy Sandy represents a shift in focus for a protest movement that began as encampment in Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan more than a year ago. Their aim now, according to Heggestuen, is to fill needs left unmet by traditional relief organizations such as the American Red Cross.
“People are now experiencing what we meant by all those months of protesting and organizing,” said Samantha Corbin, 28, an Occupy Sandy volunteer at a Brooklyn church receiving donations from the Amazon registry, which Heggestuen set up with help from his friends Katherine Dolan and Alex Nordenson. “We’re not banner-waving over this. We’re trying to build networks of people who care about each other.”
By using Amazon, the movement may be able to provide faster delivery of supplies directly to those in need, and a way to bypass traditional nonprofit organizations that spend a portion of donated funds on overhead. The risk is donors may not know exactly who receives gifts or whether they in fact reach Sandy victims. And donations to Occupy Sandy wouldn’t be tax- deductible, as they would be for a traditional nonprofit.
So far, the Brooklyn registry on Amazon has received orders for items including flashlights, mini refrigerators, diapers, toothpaste, blankets and bleach, according to the company’s website. The so-called couple describes their style as “warm, non-perishable” and requests items be sent without gift wrap.
Drew Herdener, a spokesman for Amazon, and Ravi Jariwala, a Wal-Mart spokesman, declined to comment on the Occupy Sandy registries. Amazon has a link on its home page to make donations to the Red Cross, while Wal-Mart said in a statement today that it would donate as much as $1.5 million to relief organizations.
Packages from Amazon are just starting to reach the Church of St. Luke and St. Matthew on Clinton Avenue in Brooklyn, The Rev. Michael Sniffen said in an interview. Deliveries so far have included batteries, blankets and coats.
“I received a phone call from someone in Phoenix saying they’d just sent a package,” Sniffen said in a telephone interview. “It’s a creative way to allow people to participate in the relief effort from all over the country.”
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