There are a lot of different ways that you can contribute to helping New Yorkers who were affected by Hurricane Sandy, whether via money, donations or time—go here to check out some of the opportunities. Former Gothamist staff writer Jamie Feldmar volunteered in Red Hook on Friday, and offered some advice for everyone who wants to pitch in, as well as a first hand account of helping out a small neighborhood business.

On Thursday, I donated supplies to Brooklyn Kitchen/ The Meat Hook, who are running materials out to the Rockaways all weekend, but on Friday, I wanted to do something a little more hands-on. I’d been following Red Hook Initiative’s Twitter and saw that they needed volunteers for cleanup and meal distribution, so I headed to their headquarters at 767 Hicks Street to sign up.

They have a pretty organized system: sign-up sheets for different tasks (cleanup of local businesses, meal prep, sorting donations, a separate list for volunteers with cars, etc). Getting there in the morning, around 10 a.m., seems like the best way to be guaranteed you’ll be put to good use—they assign out groups of volunteers to different tasks, and it slows down later in the day as said tasks are completed (though a second rush of people to help with dinner distribution is needed around 4 p.m.). Check their Twitter or website before going for up-to-the-minute updates on what exactly they need. And in a closed-knit neighborhood like Red Hook, with many family owned and operated businesses, a storm like Sandy can really devastate the fabric of the community.

I ended up getting assigned to Pier 41, home to the warehouse-like facilities of Red Hook Winery, Mile End, Steve’s Key Lime Pies, and plenty of others. Being right on the water, most of the pier’s tenants got seriously flooded with several feet of water. The spaces basically need to be gutted, cleaned from the inside out, and then restocked with whatever was in there to begin with. For the Winery, this meant rolling out giant, now-ruined wine barrels and hosing them down, scraping rancid grapes out of the drain, pumping standing water outside, and then bringing all of the heavy equipment back inside. There’s still no power, so it needs to get done during daylight hours. It was dirty, demanding physical work, and it’s needed in homes and businesses across the neighborhood.

Winemaker Chris Nicolson tried to remain in good spirits, but with his namesake product and production space destroyed and an insurance policy that will cover barely a fraction of his costs, the reality was hard to shake. Next door at the Mile End facility, owners Noah and Rae Bermanoff had already cleared out their flooded commercial kitchen space, losing hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment and perishable food. They’re waiting for the power to be restored before they consider what to do next. For small, independently owned businesses in Red Hook (and bigger ones, too), Sandy may have permanently swept their livelihood to sea.

Back at the Hicks Street headquarters that afternoon, another batch of volunteers were sorting flashlights from blankets and labeling each batch of donations. A kitchen group set up a makeshift buffet while a blocks-long line for food snaked around the building. Residents along Van Brunt street clustered in groups and sipped coffee from Styrofoam cups, many of them dressed in galoshes and headlamps, ready to get to work.