A powerful northeaster blanketed the New York area with a thick layer of snow just days after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. The multitude of people still reeling from the hurricane is overwhelming, so the time to serve and give is now. The Navy and National Guard have helped in badly affected areas, but help is not arriving fast enough for some. “People are still dying, thousands are in deplorable conditions – human waste on stairwells, no running water, food sporadically from the National Guard,” said former mayor Rudy Giuliani. “FEMA exists to get it there and get it there efficiently; there needs to be a sense of urgency.”
In places where infrastructure is weakest, local communities, including charities and churches, are often the first responders. Communities and churches have responded with a sense of urgency, rolling up their sleeves to feed the hungry, shelter the displaced, and provide comfort to those affected. And this is where hope for recovery lies. Morning Star New York has mobilized over a dozen teams across the city to bring relief in various ways and turned their office into a Hurricane Relief Collection and Distribution Center.
Here are a few of their stories…
Coordinating distribution and feeding 500 people
Alexey Bartashoff initially responded to the needs in his area by organizing a few volunteers to load his car with supplies to distribute in shelters. At the same time, a friend started a Facebook page called “Help Brooklyn –Sandy Victims,” where they teamed up to post needs throughout Brooklyn and use it as a hub to find out where help was needed. On Saturday, they visited five locations in some of the hardest hit areas, offering physical help as well as encouragement and hope since many are traumatized. A woman, who was injured by debris flying through her window during the storm, bled and died as her two young children watched, unable to escape or go for help.
__Communities and churches have responded with a sense of urgency, rolling up their sleeves to feed the hungry, shelter the displaced, and provide comfort to those affected.
On Sunday, Alexey gathered some volunteers and headed to Rockaway Beach in Queens where he used to work. Through their Facebook page, they organized meals for five-hundred people. The devastation there was shocking to see, as the boardwalk and many homes were destroyed. A fire destroyed one hundred homes in nearby Breezy Point. Afterwards, it looked like a bomb had been dropped there. “You hear of this in places like New Orleans or Haiti, but it hasn’t sunken in that a lot of Brighton Beach and Far Rockaway are destroyed,” Daniel Edelstein said.
In Far Rockaway, many elderly Russians live in twenty-story apartment buildings where the elevators haven’t been working due to the power outage. A few of the elderly residents fell on the staircases when they tried to venture out in search of food or medicine, so they’ve been trapped in their cold, dark apartments. When people went into their buildings announcing, “Hot food! Hot food!” in English, the Russian-speaking elderly were afraid to open their doors for assistance since they didn’t understand English and there’s been a lot of looting and crime.
Alexey organized a team of Russian-speaking youth to go door-to-door in the area, and the residents started opening their doors to receive help. Many were in urgent need of refills on their prescription medications. Alexey and his team had to find a secure location to drop off necessities such as cleaning supplies, baby food, and meals with bottles of water because people have stolen items left in unsecured locations. This week, MSNY coordinated efforts with a church in Albany. This church drove in a sixteen-foot truck filled with supplies, and convened there with a van full of MSNY volunteers so they could distribute supplies and canvass buildings. They still need volunteers for this kind of work.
Reaching the flooded Red Hook neighborhood in Brooklyn
Daniel and Irina Edelstein, residents of Brooklyn, trekked down to volunteer in Red Hook along with many young professionals because it was the closest place to help. With the gas shortage, they’re unable to fill their car tanks to travel any further. Red Hook, the seaside Brooklyn neighborhood, was hit hard by the hurricane. Their roads flooded up to six feet deep, washing away cars everywhere. The hurricane’s surge swept through the development and dumped New York Harbor into the basements of buildings, flooding boilers and electrical rooms. All of this combined made recovery slow and arduous. Like residents of lower Manhattan and other areas, they spent days living in a “Dark Zone.”
The National Guard and FEMA established a communications center there, but they rely on Red Hook Initiative, a community organization, for hands-on help. A volunteer described one shelter as “a madhouse,” where 500 people lined up for basic supplies one day. Most of the people were from the nearby projects. The poor were affected, and also young professionals and small-business owners whose homes and businesses went under water. Two sisters, who owned a bakery that flooded, don’t know how much their insurance will cover.
__People were cold and hungry and had a tired expression on their faces. “They all wanted to survive,” Jalin said.
Daniel and Irina served on a cleaning crew for six hours, helping a couple in their fifties clean out a flooded basement, backyard, and garage. Since space is valuable in New York, the basement served as their living room, dining room, and kitchen. The wife, a choreographer, tried to hold back her emotions as they removed valuables from their home, including antique furniture that had been destroyed by contaminated flood waters. A few days later, while volunteering at a shelter for elderly and mentally-ill evacuees, Irina met a couple who will celebrate their seventieth-wedding anniversary next year. They’re both holocaust survivors and they walked down twenty-two stories to be evacuated. “The craziest thing is that they are grandparents of my friend’s husband!” Irina said.
Jalin Liu and Julliard students volunteer in the Lower East Side of Manhattan
Jalin Liu, an MSNY campus missionary at Julliard, took the train from where she lives in Harlem down to 34th street and walked downtown to the Lower East Side just to volunteer. She wanted to help out at a distribution site organized by some churches in the city. It became increasingly eerie for her, as there were so few people walking and traffic lights weren’t working. FEMA later joined and provided food and supplies (blankets). She was assigned to take individuals through the distribution line to help them get the resources they needed. While she was walking them through, she would introduce herself and get to know their stories. No one had electricity since Monday (officials say it may take until November 11 for power to be fully restored to some areas). People were cold and hungry and had a tired expression on their faces. “They all wanted to survive,” Jalin said. “It was incredible to see people from FEMA, the National Guard, church believers, and the local community all working together.”
A member of the National Guard said she barely slept the last four days and that she and her crew helped carry patients from Bellevue Hospital one by one when the hospital had to evacuate. “I was serving alongside modern day heroes,” Jalin said. “It was also an amazing moment when the traffic lights and electricity came on around five pm that day. People started to shout with joy to celebrate the return of electricity.”
The next day she brought along some of her Juilliard students. “It was incredible to see how they were serving and being impacted,” Jalin said. They spent the day helping out at the distribution site and later headed to 200 Madison Street, where they went into apartment buildings, mostly housing projects, to assess the need. When they knocked on one of the doors, they heard a lady yelling and screaming that she wanted to get out. They called for security and the neighbor, who had keys, went in. “The elderly woman seemed to be very frightened and incredibly lonely,” Jalin said. “It broke our hearts that such an elderly woman had to go through such sadness.”
As they distributed water and prepackaged food to the people living in the building, they used flashlights because there was no electricity in the hallways. Some students, who were in a hurry to leave, actually ended up staying the entire time to serve. “There is something incredible when one is able to be selfless for others, and to do it together,” Jalin said.
What relief efforts can churches provide in communities affected by disaster?
“Jesus demonstrated service in his own life, leaving the riches of heaven to save us here on earth and he inspired generations after him to follow in his steps, teaching them that if they feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked, house the homeless, even the most undeserving, it is as if they are taking care of him. It is for this reason that followers of Jesus through the ages have always led the way by going to the disaster stricken, devastated places and ministering hope and healing. MSNY, like many others, was born as a response to the devastation of 9-11. Organizations like the Red Cross, Salvation Army, and World Vision are simply a practical embodiment of the values that Jesus both lived and taught. May the church continue to live and spread those values to every community and especially to broken and needy places of our world.” – Bruce Ho, MSNY Associate Pastor
And that is exactly how the churches have responded to this crisis, coming together as the body of Christ to touch the needy of NYC.
How can you give?
Visit admin.everynation.org/giving and select “a particular area of ministry or need.” Then select “Hurricane Sandy Relief.”