Neighbors, near and far

Nov. 13, 2012 — Two weeks after Hurricane Sandy slammed into the south shore of Long Island, N.Y., the makeshift disaster-response offices at Community United Methodist Church in Massapequa are buzzing with volunteer relief workers.

“We had 11 crews go out on Saturday and another seven or eight on Sunday,” reported Peggy Racine, a laywoman and longtime member of the congregation. “We’ve had double that number of calls requesting assistance. Our phone is constantly ringing — and we’ve added a second line.”

Many of those calls are coming in response to a simple flyer the church began publicizing and distributing in the immediate aftermath of the storm, inviting Long Islanders to get in touch if they needed assistance, wanted to help or had goods to donate.

Last Saturday, a week after electric power knocked out by the storm was restored to the church, more than 40 volunteers gathered there for early response team (ERT) training. They came from area United Methodist churches and sister congregations and houses of worship.

Racine said crews and offers of help had also come from as far away as Wisconsin and Nebraska. Volunteers and ERTs from Connecticut, North Carolina and Massachusetts have all made plans to help with cleanup.

The volunteers gather in what was Pastor Jeffry Wells’ office on Community United Methodist Church’s second floor. He has ceded the office to the teams and to church members’ busy organizing. Another room has been dedicated to donated supplies, including bleach, scrub brushes, trash bags and others.

“After the storm, Pastor Wells didn’t just call to say his church was all right but to say, ‘We want to help—and we’re ready for volunteers,’” reported the Rev. Joseph Ewoodzie, disaster response coordinator for the New York Annual (regional) Conference. “I could sense the urgency in his voice.”

Ewoodzie and the Rev. Tom Hazelwood, assistant general secretary for U.S. disaster response for UMCOR, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, visited the church late last week to support Community UMC’s efforts to reach out to a hurting community.

When they arrived at survivor Kim Gill’s badly damaged home, she told them how she and her family evacuated the house ahead of Sandy. “We spent the day before covering our furniture in plastic. But the storm surge was four feet high, and we came back to find the furniture floating inside the house.”

A neat blue chalk line about six feet up a pastel-colored wall and running the length of it now marked that portion of the drywall that has to be removed to ensure an adequate repair. All of the kitchen appliances were ruined, and power had not yet been restored 10 days after the storm. Snow covered the grass outside.

“We’ve been through this before,” Gill said. Tears stung her eyes as she recalled how it had taken the family six months to recover from Hurricane Irene just over a year ago. Now many of those repairs would have to be made again. “We just have to keep moving forward,” she said.

Gill and her husband, Tim, accepted Pastor Wells’ offer of refuge and, along with another family from the congregation, have been staying temporarily at the parsonage. Their three grown children and Tim’s mother are staying with other relatives and friends.

There were many such offers by Community UMC members to their neighbors in need in the days immediately following the storm, Wells said—offers of a shower, a warm place to stay, or a chance to do laundry or charge up a cell phone.

At the first Sunday service post-Sandy, Wells said he spoke of “God being with us. That also was my first chance to talk about our church serving as a disaster-response center. It has been very inspiring to see the laity step up and do this,” he said.

Your gift to Hurricanes 2012, UMCOR Advance #3021787, will help UMCOR support efforts like these to bring relief to those who are rebuilding their lives after super-storm Sandy. Learn more about how you can provide much-needed cleaning buckets.

*Linda Unger is senior writer for the General Board of Global Ministries.

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