Friday, November 9, 2012

Robicelli's Owner Organizing Relief Efforts, Would Like Everyone to Stop Complaining About Not Having Wi-Fi

Posted By on Fri, Nov 9, 2012 at 10:05 AM

  • Photo Peter Hobbs/NonaBrooklyn

Allison Robicelli is not one to sit idle for long.

Currently suffering from a bulging disc in her back and a fractured coccyx after being hit by a car a month ago, four blocks from her house, the social media and baked goods maven was sentenced to bed rest for at least six weeks. Of course, for the ever-industrious Robicelli, that hasn’t meant listless days filled with takeout and back-to-back episodes of RuPaul’s Drag Race — or at least not exclusively. She's also organizing a grassroots, guerilla-style Hurricane Sandy relief effort, organized with husband Matt from their own basement apartment in Bay Ridge. Allison took a break from overseeing mass production of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to speak with us.

Brooklyn Magazine: I know that cupcakes are the last thing on your mind, but how did the storm affect your business? Isn’t the Robicelli’s production facility (Industry City) in Zone A?

Allison Robicelli: We lost power for a week, the gas main cracked, and the air was pretty dangerous down there so we weren't allowed in. Before the storm we had laid out a small fortune for inventory to set up our newest client, Madison Square Garden. We lost a lot of it when the power failed. Between that and losing a week’s receipts, we're in some trouble, but we're going to work really hard to get out of it. Our employees know they're going to get paid a little late on some stuff as we play catch-up, we're going to take a little less home for a while. We're doing business in a changed city from now on.

We've been doing this for four years now, and there's not a single easy thing about being an entrepreneur. I always tell people, "If you like to bake, then go work at a bakery. If you like finding the solutions to 10 million problems, then OWN a bakery.” Matt and I are experts in disasters and crisis management. We'll find a way out of this.

BKMag: That being said, how were you able to forget about your own problems and focus instead on creating a disaster relief center for others? How did you get the ball rolling?

AR: I have no idea how this really happened…I don't. I'm actually working on two efforts. The first one was with Made in NYC — I had approached them about creating an online shopping portal linking to local businesses. Our plan is to get people to show their support by shopping through this site for Christmas instead of Amazon, and letting them know that their holiday shopping will help rebuild NYC.

I’d also started calling lots of my old friends in different neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Staten Island, and found out that nobody was helping them. Meanwhile I go on Twitter, and I see people bitching there's no WiFi on the Lower East Side, or wondering what local restaurants are open.

Listen, I'm all for the small business recovery. I'm all for everyone going out there and eating out and shopping local. But when that's the highest priority for people, and I've got friends who are going to sleep holding kitchen knives because looters have been trying to get into their houses; when there's five cops on every corner of Manhattan to ease gridlock and no one in Coney Island has seen a cop or a single relief person in three days; when people are bitching about their commutes and no one has a single inkling that they are fucking pulling dead bodies out of rubble on Staten Island, I'm not going to take that sitting down.

We're from Bay Ridge. These people are our brothers and sisters, and they were being completely ignored. So I got on Twitter and just started screaming at the top of my lungs, making people listen to me. Then people started tweeting or calling me, saying that they knew people on this block who needed help, or someone in Staten Island who needed food, and we just started finding ways to do it. I went on my local parents Facebook group and told people to start bringing things to my apartment. We started making sandwiches. Total strangers were coming in, setting up, getting to work. We were packing up cars with food and water and toiletries and cleaning supplies, and shuttling them out to dark streets in places like Midland Beach and Sea Gate and other neighborhoods no one has ever heard of. We didn't even realize what we were doing until maybe 24 hours later when my aunt came to my apartment and asked what was going on. We were just going…reacting. People needed help. And if the government was going to take their sweet-ass time to get it there, then we were going to help them ‘til they got their acts together.

BKMag: Obviously you can’t sustain this sort of production out of your apartment forever, so how do you keep the momentum going?

AR: We're not running anything out of our house now; given that our apartment is about 400 sq feet, we honestly didn't have the room in the first place. And donation centers are overloaded with things brought in over the weekend, so we're encouraging people to go in and help them sort — they have things that are really needed on the ground in there, but no one is able to get to it because of the disorganization.

We're also working with some big names in food media to organize a hot food hub here in Bay Ridge where we can mobilize food along with crucial supplies to forgotten neighborhoods — sort of a continuation of our "mobile relief center" system. Many people are still living in their destroyed homes while they rebuild with no gas or electric, many are elderly, and many are just exhausted from the cleanup. We'll be here to support them over the next few months. It's the Brooklyn way.

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