Disaster Relief-transitions

Disaster relief

 By: Pastor Craig Miller

Disaster relief coordinator Pastor Craig Miller shares disaster relief information in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.


Dec 15, 2014

One thing I have learned about disaster response work: change is constant. We talk about times of transition and those times seem to be a constant occurrence. Changing seasons and anniversaries, however, mark significant times of transition. Therefore, this winter, we see funding expiring, programs ending, and people moving on to other jobs in other locations. Thankfully, at the same time, we welcome new partners in our efforts, while some old partners adapt to the changing landscape as well.

In this third year of response to Superstorm Sandy, we will see many major national organizations leaving the recovery effort. The Red Cross has already pulled most of their attention from our area, although they continue to provide some funding for others to continue their work. Organizations that assist with reconstruction of homes, such as the Southern Baptists, expect to leave at the end of the summer.


Meanwhile, organizations that until now have had little input into the recovery efforts have begun to bring their expertise to bear. I see this mostly in the area of emotional and mental health. Those who will carry out the long-term recovery will be local organizations and individuals rather than the major national groups. Long-Term Recovery Groups (LTRG) in Long Island, Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and Staten Island work to bring together these organizations so that communication, collaboration, cooperation, and coordination can continue for the benefit of affected residents and communities.


In some areas, such as Patchogue, Massapequa, Lindenhurst, Long Beach, Roosevelt, Mastic, and Staten Island, Community Organizations Active in Disaster (COAD) have begun to form. COADs provide a forum for local organizations to maintain contact and prepare for future disasters. When a disaster strikes, COADs can mobilize resources more quickly because systems of communication and collaboration are already in place. In addition, through Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD), COADs participate in a network of response organizations that can bring greater resources from other areas when needed.


Our congregations can bring their own resources to the table by participating in the LTRGs and COADs in their areas. The church has an important role to play in disaster response and recovery, and preparedness. We bring our selves, our buildings and our network of congregations in the synod and the ELCA as assets to respond to disasters here and around the world.


A long way to go

Dec 10, 2014

This month I attended a meeting of the Long Island LTRG Volunteer and Donations committee in Central Islip. The committee is anchored by the Long Island Volunteer Center and includes participants from FEMA, Southern Baptists, and the New York Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. At this meeting I was not surprised to hear that the LTRG continues to discover people who need assistance in order to recover from Sandy.


The Long Island LTRG operates a call center that reaches out to members of the impacted communities to offer assistance. The call center has encountered many people who have fallen through the cracks of the disaster recovery. They may have missed deadlines for filing for government aid or they tried to make it on their own, thinking they could handle the intricacies of the system of assistance. Many of these people are elderly and isolated.


In Brooklyn, the LTRG just completed a round of phone canvassing covering the neighborhood of Canarsie. Of the 380 contacts, more than half still have recovery needs and do not have the assistance of a Disaster Case Manager such as those working for LSSNY.


It seems clear to me that this disaster recovery still has a long way to go, and LTRGs with their constituent organizations need to gear up for many years of work. The accomplishments of government assistance programs and the efforts of voluntary organizations have only scratched the surface of what will be a long and arduous recovery.


Quality of life

Dec 04, 2014

It may not seem like a big deal, but to Mrs. C in Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn, the mold on the windows of her glassed in porch had become a quality of life issue. Sandy's storm surge drove ocean waters into her basement flooding up to five feet. The flooding led to mold developing on the first floor and Mrs. C began to experience adverse health in reaction to the mold, conditions she did not have before the storm.

After spending the $13,000 flood insurance payment, plus much more from her own savings to rehab the basement, this 84-year old woman was left with insufficient resources to complete repairs to her home. In addition, the unique construction of her enclosed porch meant that few contractors would even consider a repair project, thus increasing the cost.

Thankfully, Mrs. C had a Lutheran Social Services Disaster Case Manager who brought her case to the Unmet Needs Roundtable convened by NYDIS. The Unmet Needs Roundtable brings funders together to hear cases presented by Disaster Case Managers. Funders decide between themselves whether and how much to provide for client recovery needs. In Mrs. C's case, a funder provided over $17,000 to cover the repairs.




Renewing our hope for the future

Nov 19, 2014

sandyanniversaryWe gathered at the foot of Manhattan, representatives from Sandy-impacted communities in the five boroughs, to mark the significant landmark of a second year in recovery from the storm. As the daylight waned, impacted residents, volunteer workers, members of community- and faith-based organizations came together in Bowling Green Park.

America’s Tenor, Danny Rodriguez, started off the evening singing the national anthem in front of the rapt audience. We were honored to have his presence and to hear his voice. I had been asked to speak at this event as a representative of the Long Term Recovery Groups who are actively involved in the recovery efforts in our boroughs. It was a challenge to me as I tried to balance the good accomplishments of our organizations against the daunting need that still exists in our neighborhoods. Thankfully, I was not the lone speaker.


Lyn Governale, a resident of Staten Island, shared her story and reflected on the remaining needs in her community. She was followed by a resident of Rockaway, Deneane Ferguson, who shared a message of hope, stating that God works for good in all things. Indeed, she spoke the gospel to our crowd on that night.


After a moving rendition of Beautiful City, we paused for a moment of silence as we lit candles, a sign of hope against the darkness of despair. Rabbi Janise Poticha of Temple Sinai of Massapequa concluded the evening with a call to renew—a call to renew our efforts on behalf of our neighbors, a call to renew our hope for the future, and a call to renew our communities for resiliency.


"I see how truly amazing God is in all of this."

Oct 23, 2014

"The volunteers are here and they are doing a wonderful job; Joe and I could not be more pleased. We know that this would not have been possible without yours and the "Lutheran Services" help. When I think back to how thirty-two years ago, a Lutheran pastor performed our marriage ceremony and helped in putting us together. Now, the same faith-based people have helped to put our home back together. I see how truly amazing God is in all of this. He led us to sign up with you, as it was his will, then he allowed you to give us this help. It is all, surely, his workings. We have really experienced true Christian charity. Now, I have an even greater hope than ever before because I know that you will all continue to serve. Many thanks for your help and your kind support."


After Hurricane Sandy flooding caused the sewer to back up into their ground floor, the Smiths (not their real name), a retired couple, received some monies from FEMA, which was used to gut the basement, remediate the mold, replace the hot water heater and other appliances. Rapid Repairs replaced their furnace and redid the electrical, but installed the incorrect outlets, resulting in a citation from the Department of Buildings. With this violation, the Smiths were unable to proceed with repairs to their home.


A Disaster Case Manager from LSSNY helped the Smiths to reach out to their local City Council representative, who worked to remove the violation. Estimated costs for the home repairs came out to over $11,000, more than the Smiths could afford, so LSSNY arranged for their Construction Manager to look over the project, in order to determine the scope of work and supply needs. The Case Manager arranged for Red Hook Volunteers, a group organized after Hurricane Sandy to help neighbors recover, to restore the sheetrock and insulation to the home. Supplies were provided by LSSNY through a special Home Depot portal at the New York City Unmet Needs Roundtable convened by New York Disaster Interfaith Services (NYDIS).


LSSNY provides Disaster Case Management and Construction Management as part of the New York State Disaster Sandy Case Management Program administered by Catholic Charities. As the Metropolitan New York affiliate of Lutheran Disaster Response, LSSNY has received funding for this program from LDR that enables them to expand their services.


Project LIFE: Getting people back on their feet

Oct 16, 2014

I’ve written before about Project LIFE, Lutheran Social Services Disaster Case Management, as an important part of our response to Hurricane Sandy. Two years after the storm, they continue to work with clients in storm impacted areas, helping them to get back on their feet and establish a resiliency they did not know they had. Let me share a couple stories:


One client in Far Rockaway lived with her two sons in NYCHA housing. The city’s housing projects in shorefront communities, we have learned, had almost no protection against the storm surge. These buildings have been poorly maintained in the past and Sandy made things worse. This client lived on the seventh floor of the building and, thus, was above the flood level. However, the building lost power and heat for more than a month. She and her two sons had to leave the apartment and stay at her mother’s home in Brooklyn where they slept on the floor.


NYCHA finally provided a new apartment five months later but first required a new security deposit. In addition, this family had to replace furniture and other belongings that were destroyed by mold that had infested their original apartment. In order to pay all her expenses this client took a loan from her 401(k) and ran up charges on credit cards even as she fell further behind on her rent. With money from Project LIFE, this family was helped to pay back rent and alleviate credit card debt. The threat of eviction that had been hanging over them was removed and they have begun to move forward.


A second client who lost his apartment to flood damage was forced to move several times between relatives, friends, and a WIN shelter. This man did not have the funds to cover a new rental startup and purchase replacement furniture. His income barely covered his day to day costs. Project LIFE provided funds to cover his security deposit and first-month rent, as well as replace some basic furniture. This client has returned to self-sufficiency.


Project LIFE is funded in part by a grant from Lutheran Disaster Response.



Sep 30, 2014

It seems like Hurricane Sandy is ancient history to many of us. So much has happened since October 29, 2012 that we hardly think about the unprecedented storm surge and the water flowing through streets and subway tunnels. But to many survivors, especially those who still struggle to rebuild homes and lives, the storm and its devastation is still fresh, the wounds raw. The nearly two years of waiting and pleading for recovery assistance have not brought healing yet. And many still suffer in silence, whether out of fear or ignorance of the resources available.


New Yorkers know from our experience of 9/11/2001 that disasters impact us not only physically but emotionally and spiritually. Anniversaries often bring back feelings related to the trauma, sometimes unconsciously. Sounds, tastes, sights and smells can also recall events. Survivors of Sandy continue to experience strong emotions and ask spiritual questions. The recent floods in Long Island brought new devastation to some communities and raised memories of the experience of 18 months before. In addition, feelings of frustration, despair, and abandonment grow among those whose recovery is delayed or stalled.


For the most part, our churches damaged in the storm have come back. They have repaired walls and replaced furniture and appliances, thanks to the generosity of neighbors and many Lutherans from around the country, including those who gave to our synod disaster relief fund. In Gerritsen Beach, Coney Island, Howard Beach, Long Beach and the Lower East Side our congregations have reopened damaged basements, social halls, and sanctuaries. In some cases the repairs have improved on what was there before the storm.


What is our church doing now, as we approach the second anniversary of Sandy?

Through Lutheran Disaster Response of New York (LDRNY) we continue to offer Disaster Case Management to survivors of Sandy and Irene in Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, and Long Island. Disaster Case Management (DCM) assists survivors to develop and implement a recovery plan appropriate to their needs and helps to identify resources available to achieve the goals of the plan. LDRNY is one of several organizations under the government funded DCM program administered by Catholic Charities. To date they have aided 1,444 clients through their DCM services plus another 500 referrals.


A few of our congregations have hosted volunteers or other Sandy workers in their churches. This act of generosity has brought assistance to many survivors who otherwise could not have moved forward in their recovery.


We give thanks for those who give to Lutheran Disaster Response. These gifts help survivors of disasters around the world and here in New York. LDR grants enabled Lutheran Counseling Center to offer no cost counseling to survivors in Long Island, Brooklyn, and Staten Island; Lutheran Health Care provided assistance to its employees whose homes were impacted; and LDRNY will extend its top-notch DCM beyond the period of funding from the government.


Thank you for your prayers, your gifts and your presence.   

Plans: More than documents

Sep 18, 2014

America’s PreparAthon! will take place on Tuesday, September 30. The PrepareAthon is a nationwide, community-based campaign to increase emergency preparedness and resilience. Individuals, organizations, and communities can participate through drills, group discussions and exercises to prepare for local hazards.


I wonder how many of our congregations are prepared to respond to disasters that might affect their communities. The synod disaster plan under development will call on all of our congregations to develop their own disaster plans that will include what to do in the event a disaster strikes their properties, as well as what they can do to respond to local disasters.


Such plans are more than documents that we keep in our church offices. We must practice our plans regularly so that we can better enact them when disaster strikes. Drills and table-top exercises help us to find the weaknesses in our plans and strengthen them, and they keep us mindful of our roles so that in an emergency we will know what to do without losing time looking it up.


When we have our synod and congregation disaster plans and practice them, we can better encourage our members to develop their own plans. In fact, part of a congregation’s plan might be to offer regular training to members (and the community) so that they can make their own plans and practice them together. These events can have the added benefit of bringing neighbors together in a way that enables them to help each other in a disaster situation. If I know my neighbor’s plan as well as my own, we can work together to find safety. And if my neighbor has a need that I discover in a preparedness exercise, I can be ready to help when disaster strikes.


Make a plan

Sep 15, 2014

Week Three of National Preparedness Month focuses on what we need to have in order to be prepared in the event of a disaster. There are several things needed in a disaster plan. The synod’s draft disaster plan specifies how our congregations and synod staff might respond to disasters but, more importantly, it begins to specify measures to be taken in order to be prepared for our response. Indeed, we cannot respond well in a disaster unless we have prepared ourselves ahead of time. Knowing that our own house is in order will help us to reach out to others after a disaster rather than leave us scrambling with our own recovery.


readyBefore any flight takes off, the passengers are given a safety demonstration that includes what to do in the event of emergencies. The flight attendants demonstrate the use of seatbelts, life vests, and how to put on an oxygen mask if the cabin loses pressure. Passengers are instructed, "If you are traveling with young children, put on your own mask first before helping your child." This seemingly selfish act, we know, is so that we do not lose consciousness while trying to help another. Being prepared means that we have taken measures before a disaster for our own safety and security, and the well-being of our families and our congregations so that we can more quickly come to the aid of others.


The synod disaster plan will call on all congregations to have their own plans. Lutheran Disaster Response has a new resource for congregations to use, along with the many resources available from FEMA, Red Cross and other organizations. Local Long-Term Recovery Groups, COADs, and VOADs also have resources and connections through their participating organizations, as do Offices of Emergency Management.


Several organizations offer disaster planning workshops for individuals. Participants in these workshops usually receive a go-kit from the organization. Families learn how to develop a communication plan that includes a location to meet in case they cannot return home. Congregations can organize preparedness seminars and workshops for members and their neighbors with assistance from Red Cross.


Be disaster-aware: Take action to prepare

Sep 06, 2014

Congregations proclaim the gospel in many ways in the community in which they live: worship, vision planning, social ministry, youth programs and much more. When a crisis or disaster arises and God’s people are hurting and scared, God gives us the gift to share the hope and promise of new life in the midst of devastation.

--Lutheran Disaster Response Congregational Disaster Preparedness Guide

disasterawareWe are in the second week of Disaster Preparedness Month looking toward National PrepareAthon! Day, September 30. The www.ready.gov site suggest this is the week to Make a Plan. This is a good week for congregations to look at the newly released Lutheran Disaster Response Congregational Disaster Preparedness Guide. The guidebook provides a helpful process for developing a congregational response plan that includes assessments of capabilities for responding to disasters and vulnerabilities of the congregation.

Our synod Disaster Response Plan--currently under development--includes the expectation that congregations will have their own response plans so that our church can truly be a source of hope and promise after disasters. In order to live into our strategic vision of a synod claimed, gathered, and sent, we need to be prepared to address the needs that arise after disaster strikes. Whether small or large, from a house fire to another superstorm, our church can better proclaim God’s mercy when we have made preparations ahead of time to respond.

Other resources for preparedness include the FEMA Guide to Developing High Quality Emergency Operation Plans for Houses of Worship, Church World Service, the American Red Cross, local Offices of Emergency Management and Police and Fire Departments.


Get Prepared: National Preparedness Month

Sep 04, 2014

getpreparedThe month of September has been designated National Preparedness Month. During these 30 days individuals, communities and organizations are encouraged to think about how they will respond in the event disaster strikes.

As we think about preparedness we probably first consider those large disasters such as superstorm Sandy or 9/11, but disasters come in all sizes. A house fire is a disaster to the family that loses its possessions and place of shelter; a building collapse in Harlem is a disaster to those who live there and to neighbors; rain-swollen creeks and sewers overwhelmed by a sudden downpour can devastate entire neighborhoods and towns. The effects of these events are mitigated by good planning on the part of those who are affected.


The NYC Office of Emergency Management website has an entire section dedicated to preparedness. The site advertises events around the city throughout the month with kickoff events in the five boroughs taking place on September 5. FEMA has been tweeting on preparedness with the hashtag #NatlPrep.


National Preparedness Month aims to educate and empower Americans to prepare for and respond to all types of emergencies. The ready.gov website has resources ‘free’ to use in congregations and communities as well as materials for America’s PrepareAthon!, an annual event scheduled for September 30.


In future posts this month I will share more ideas and resources about disaster preparedness along with information about our developing synod disaster plan.


National Preparedness Month

Week 1 (September 1-7): Be Informed. Plan How to Reconnect and Reunite with Family Following a Disaster. Emphasis is placed on family emergency communication planning for how you will get to a safe place; how you will contact one another; how you will get back together if separated; and what you will do in different situations. The plan can be completed and/or exercised on National PrepareAthon! Day.



The volunteer challenge

Aug 20, 2014

Volunteer labor after a disaster provides much needed assistance to survivors. This is no less true for Sandy than for other disasters around the world. Volunteers were indispensible in the clean up efforts after the storm and continue to bring valuable assistance to many who would otherwise not be able to recover homes and lives.

However, unlike much of the rest of the country, New York offers its own challenges to volunteers seeking to offer their time and energy. The first challenge has been to find suitable housing for volunteer groups coming from out of the area. New York has little in the way of space. Groups usually stay on church properties but in New York those spaces are small or are occupied by programs and other users. 


A second, more significant challenge to the volunteer work force has been the extent to which jobs require permits and licenses. The need for a local license precludes those who may have skills but do not live or work in the area from donating their abilities.

In spite of these and other challenges, we continue to see organizations provide much-needed help to survivors using volunteer labor. Those volunteers come from local and national sources including church groups. Lately, these organizations have requested help finding the skilled volunteers that can help them make and even bigger impact. They seek electricians, plumbers, and roofers who are willing to give their time to help those who cannot afford to make a full recovery without them.

Let us pray for this part of our storm recovery.


Showing care through companionship

Jul 24, 2014

What can a congregation do to help after a disaster?


St. Peter’s in Baldwin found a way to help by offering space in their building for volunteers to stay while they assist families to rebuild their homes.


Two Unitarian Universalist youth groups stayed at St. Peter’s in June and July and worked in Long Island and the Rockaways. St Peter’s provided bedding and food so that the groups could focus on the work they had to accomplish. As the thank you notes indicate, these groups greatly appreciated the hospitality of St Peter’s. (Click here to view the thank you notes larger.)


Such hospitality is an opportunity for our church to show that we care about our communities and those who suffer. We offer ourselves, our time and our possessions so that others may be comforted by our companionship. We share also with those who stay with us and promote learning about different people and communities. St. Peter’s has helped these Unitarian Universalist groups to understand Lutherans while also learning about the UU church.

Where can families stay while their homes are rebuilt?

Jul 01, 2014

As I make the rounds to meetings of Long Term Recovery Groups, NYC VOAD, and other gatherings of people working for the recovery of survivors from Sandy I find myself in awe of the dedication of these individuals. It would be so easy to forget those who continue to suffer after more than a year and a half since the storm. I see a great deal of effort made on behalf of the most vulnerable in our communities, even when the challenges appear insurmountable.


Just the other day I was speaking with some of our LDRNY case management team about difficulties faced by their clients. One in particular stands out to me because I have heard it several times: where can families stay while their homes are rebuilt?


Early after the storm the government, American Red Cross and others made funds available for temporary shelter for those whose homes were made unlivable by flooding or wind damage. The last of those programs has wound down leaving many whose homes have not yet been repaired to wonder where they can go now. In addition, thousands who live in homes in need of major repair and are eligible for government funded assistance through New York Rising or New York City’s Build it Back are faced with the dilemma of needing to find temporary housing while those programs’ contractors do their work.


Neither New York Rising nor Build it Back – both funded with federal dollars through HUD – provides for rental assistance for these residents. Instead, they must bear the burden of rent often along with keeping up their mortgage and insurance payments on the home under repair.


Adding to the problem is the extraordinarily low vacancy rate across our area – Nassau and Suffolk counties have a 1% vacancy rate. For those seeking short-term housing (our clients having their homes rebuilt), this rate may be even lower because rental property owners would rather engage long-term tenants.


While this remains of great concern, many are working and advocating with the government agencies to find a solution. Our neighbors deserve all the care we can give them in their hour of need.


How a simple phone call can change a person’s life...

Jun 19, 2014

The Long Island Long Term Recovery Group was established to respond to needs after Hurricane Irene. When Sandy struck they had only begun to organize and had to now address another, more severe storm. World Renew, a ministry of the Christian Reformed Church in North America, joined the LTRG to begin the process of assessing the extent of need in Long Island communities. Through their walk-in centers they interviewed almost 400 cases. AmeriCorps volunteers contacted an additional 950 cases before their funding ran out.


The LI LTRG decided to continue reaching out to known cases left on the AmeriCorps call list. In March of this year they established a Call Center through the Long Island Volunteer Center. This is one story from the Call Center, by Beata Clark and Francesca Yellico:


Recently while completing calls from The AmeriCorps "wait list" we came across an 89-year old Italian widow, named Elena. Her house, as many others on the south shore, has sustained severe damage from Hurricane Sandy. Four feet of salt water has destroyed the entire first floor of her home.


Immediately following the storm, AmeriCorps St. Louis Emergency Response Team did the basic muck out and mold remediation. Unfortunately, 18 months later the house is still in disrepair, untouched from where the volunteers left it over a year ago. The home has no insulation or sheetrock and the bare concrete floor is cracking and heavily damaged. The house is being held up by rotting and decaying wooden studs and the electrical wiring is corroded by the salt water and creating hazardous conditions.

This woman has been living in these horrible conditions for so long because she didn’t know where to turn to for help. She accepted her circumstances and carried this burden all alone because she was afraid and didn’t have anyone to trust or confide in. Living alone and surviving the storm left her feeling unsafe and vulnerable.


After speaking for quite some time and establishing a rapport she finally found someone she could trust and confide in. We were so honored to have been part of that. Through the work of the Call Center we were able not only find Elena but to connect her to different resources in the community. It is with great joy that we report to you the new road Elena is on.


We were able to connect her with a DCM, who immediately brought her case to the Unmet Needs Roundtable. Not only will all her electrical wiring be redone through their generosity but the Southern Baptists Disaster Relief volunteers immediately committed to do the insulation, sheetrock and spackling.


We cannot begin to express how happy we are for Elena. Things will be changing in such a beautiful way for her. We are in awe of the goodness and care being shown towards her by all involved. We feel so inspired and thankful to have been able to initiate this wonderful recovery process.


Special thanks to: PricewaterhouseCoopers, LTRG, FEGS, the Unmet Needs Roundtable and Southern Baptists Disaster Relief volunteers for making all this possible. This is a prime example of teamwork at its finest. We are so proud to work with such wonderful people.


Special thanks to Diana O’Neill for re-opening the Call Center and enabling us reach out to these vulnerable residents. You are allowing us to be the voice for those still quietly suffering.


Reach the Call Center at 631-630-9221.          


How Hurricane Sandy affected renters

Jun 17, 2014

A recently released report by Make the Road New York highlights the impact of Sandy on New York City’s renters. As with New Orleans and Katrina, New York City had many more renters in the impacted neighborhoods than it had homeowners. In addition, the majority of renters are vulnerable populations such as people of color and immigrants. Their research, primarily in Staten Island, discovered that after Sandy many renters have been unable to return to their homes or neighborhoods, and many have had to move to smaller, more expensive apartments, sometimes in multi-family arrangements.


Strikingly, the report notes that rents in Sandy impacted neighborhoods have gone up in some cases approximately 20%, thus taking an additional 12% from the median income of households surveyed. For families and individuals already burdened by high rents and low incomes, this leads to difficult choices between housing and food, clothing, or other necessities.


It appears that some rental properties are falling prey to speculators and developers. A report from  Huffington Post, from March 2013 describes the difficulties in repairing or rebuilding after the storm, making sales more attractive to owners and potential buyers who can afford to develop the properties.


Renters are important to the local economies that suffered after Sandy as well. Those who rent are more likely to patronize the small businesses located in neighborhoods rather than travel to more distant outlets. Local landlords also depend on rental income to meet their mortgages and other expenses.

What follows are some key findings in the Make the Road report.

  • New York City renters who were affected by Hurricane Sandy have a median income of $18,000, which is approximately half the median income of renters in New York City as a whole.
  • Renters affected by Sandy are more likely to be low-income and of color than their homeowner counterparts.
  • 36% of people interviewed are paying more rent now than they did before the storm.
  • The median rent paid by Sandy-affected households has increased $200 a month since the storm.
  • 40% of renters interviewed did not return to their pre-Sandy address.
  • Many survey participants are living in smaller spaces and moving from single families homes to apartments.
  • Many Sandy-affected renters report they are unable to afford healthy food and other basic necessities as a result of increased rent.
  • Structural barriers, such as the lack of translation and interpretation services for non-native English speakers, have prevented many renters from accessing available resources.

Weathering the Storm

Jun 12, 2014

"The City’s response to Hurricane Sandy was slow and communication to residents before, during and after the storm was inadequate."


This spring, a collaborative effort among several organizations concerned with the effects of Sandy on their communities issued a report entitled Weathering the Storm, focused on the impact of the storm on New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) residents. According to the report, the storm aggravated already poor conditions in New York City Housing Authority buildings. The report points out that delayed maintenance in buildings, poor communications between NYCHA and residents and with the city’s Office of Emergency Management, and an ongoing mold problem were exacerbated after Sandy washed through over 400 buildings in the boroughs of Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan.


In many buildings, residents went without heat and hot water for weeks before temporary boilers were installed. Those boilers remain in place today and have proven to be unreliable, leaving residents uncertain whether they will have heat on cold days or hot water. The report states that NYCHA administrators knew of the vulnerability of their properties but failed to implement measures to protect services. The housing system suffers from chronic underfunding for maintenance and upgrades.


In many NYCHA houses, community centers served as rescue and relief centers for residents and community members. Because of past deficits in NYCHA budgets many of these community centers have closed. It took local community and faith based organizations to open the centers for relief. These same centers continue to be threatened by lack of funding. The 2014 deficit for NYCHA stands at $78,000,000.


Participants in the report include, The Alliance for a Just Rebuilding, ALIGN, Community Development Project at the Urban Justice Center, Community Voices Heard, Faith in New York, Families United for Racial and Economic Equality, Good Old Lower East Side, Red Hook Initiative and New York Communities for Change.


The state of long-term emotional and spiritual care

Jun 02, 2014

When I was asked to give a presentation at a Disaster Preparedness, Response and Resilience Forum at Union Theological Seminary on the subject of emotional and spiritual care, I took it as an opportunity to reflect on the state of spiritual care now that we have passed 18 months since the storm struck. The Rev. Susan Karlson of the Unitarian Universalist Church and I teamed up to look at what systems are in place to respond to disasters throughout the recovery process. We noted that, like much of the disaster response we have seen, a good deal of resource and capacity exists for the short-term and intermediate phases, but long-term emotional and spiritual care especially has suffered a drastic drop-off in attention after we passed the first anniversary of the storm.


For the first year after Sandy came ashore a great deal of emotional and spiritual care for survivors came through Project Hope, a state-funded program that lasted until February of this year. Long Term Recovery Groups gave little attention to what would happen once this program concluded. Almost all thought was to crisis management with an implied assumption that after 14 months the crisis would be over. However, for many survivors, the crisis lingers and, as frustrations at the many delays and disappointments mount, it is compounded by new crises with even deeper impact.


I have observed from meetings of LTRGs and their Emotional and Spiritual Care Committees that we tend to focus on this area, as with most of our response, only as a "professional" response. We look for the mental health professionals and religious leaders to provide the care we believe we need.


When considering spiritual resilience and preparation for future disasters, we need to look beyond the professionals to the communities of faith that create healthy spaces. In my presentation, I stressed the importance of congregations planning for disaster so that they are prepared to serve as those places of health and healing. Having a disaster plan means that we are less likely to spend our energy figuring out our congregations’ recovery and more available to serve our neighbors; our plans will help us to work for real Long-Term spiritual renewal among the people to whom God has sent us.


During a conversation with one of the conference attendees we concluded that we are asking our congregations that they be church. Planning for disaster is part of being church.


Reflections on Sandy after 18 months, by guest blogger Pastor Harvey von Harten

May 28, 2014

What did we learn and of what did we become more aware in these last days?

  • All things work together for those who love the Lord.
  • Friendship and generosity flow from the deep roots of pleasant memories.
  • Water has its dark side even for the faithful.
  • Some of the faithful were content to be present every Lord’s Day.
  • Living on the 17th floor without functioning elevators for months is the pits.
  • We received generous monetary gifts from Metro New York Synod faithful, from friends, from strangers, from a pastor and his congregation in New Orleans still healing from their own Hurricane damage.
  • It takes a long time to dry out 100 years of paper church records, by hanging them from string "clothes line."
  • It takes more time to accomplish the many tasks of operating a congregation when work space is one-quarter of the area of the former office space.
  • Dry cleaning 50 years of acquired paraments and vestments can get expensive.
  • Worship for a year without musical accompaniment, and six more months with an electric keyboard lacks something. We are in a queue for organ installation.
  • We are still not done putting the building and the congregation back together.
  • When I was in elementary school, our family lived in the basement as my father continued to work building the first and second floors. When it rained, and particularly when Hurricane Hazel hit us, we put all the bowls, pots and containers we had to catch the water and we sat in candlelight waiting.
  • I am glad our church roof did not drip a drop.
  • All are welcome to visit the new St. Paul’s Evangelical Church of Coney Island at West 8th Street and Neptune Ave. Sunday Worship at 11am. Wednesday Evening Prayer 6:30pm is followed by Good Questions and Better Answers.

Rev. Harvey W. von Harten, Pastor, St. Paul’s Lutheran Evangelical Lutheran Church of Coney Island

Ms Anna M. Haye, Deacon


Ensuring that nobody is forgotten

May 19, 2014

I recently attended a meeting of the Long Island Long Term Recovery Group Volunteer Committee. The Volunteer Committee brings together representatives from organizations concerned with volunteer recruitment and coordination in order to help communities recover from Sandy and Irene.


One report at the meeting came from the LTRG Call Center. While not directly related to volunteer recruitment and coordination, the Call Center has been reaching out to members of communities affected by Sandy, following up on contacts made early in the recovery effort. Their efforts help to locate where volunteers are needed.


The Call Center representatives told of people feeling forgotten, as if the storm's effects have gone away. They shared the story of a woman and her 8-year old son still struggling to recover from the storms. The apartment in which they first lived was flooded in Hurricane Irene so they moved a short distance inland. One year later, Sandy's storm surge filled their new apartment. After two storms, the child shows clear signs of PTSD. When the Call Center contacted her, she was able to share her story. The Call Center directed her to resources for children and other resources. By the end of the call, she could express her relief that she truly was not forgotten.


The Long Term Recovery Group works to ensure that nobody is forgotten. Through the Call Center, Disaster Case Management and volunteer coordination, the LTRG reaches out into communities to find those most vulnerable and walk with them toward recovery. Volunteers are an important part of the LTRG work. To volunteer with the LTRG in Long Island visit the Long Island Volunteer Center Sandy Recovery section - and sign up for their newsletter to keep informed of future volunteer opportunities.



The need for Long Term Recovery Groups

May 12, 2014

In the first months after Superstorm Sandy, Long Term Recovery Groups started to meet in the five boroughs and in Long Island. The first LTRG to have a strong organization was in Long Island where they had been organizing in response to Hurricane Irene. Member agencies and organizations came together to collaborate and coordinate their efforts for the sake of those who had survived the storm and needed assistance to clean up and make repairs to their homes and lives.


FEMA Voluntary Agency Liaisons worked tirelessly in the five boroughs to identify and draw together voluntary organizations which would form the LTRGs in each borough. Those who came together in the Bronx and Manhattan (Lower East Side) quickly turned their focus to resiliency and preparedness for future disasters while Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island--each having extensive damage in shorefront communities--brought together organizations focused on clean-up and home reconstruction.


Over the past 18 months, I have attended meetings of the LTRGs in Staten Island, Brooklyn, and Queens, watching and participating in the development of these groups, even to the point of being elected to chair the Brooklyn LTRG. In all the meetings, usually twice a month, I have struggled to contain my frustration with the process of developing a truly collaborative organization. Individual organization self-interest along with changing personnel has made organizing very difficult, as has differences of personality.


BrooklynLTRGBut good things come to those who wait. My own home borough of Brooklyn struggled for most of the first year to form its LTRG. Now, in the last three months, a new vigor has developed in the LTRG. Organizations that have given up on the LTRG have begun to return, more cooperation has become evident, conversations about improving collaboration through development of effective processes have grown and are showing results. Signs of hope abound at committee meetings and general assembly meetings.


The time it takes to develop a communicative, coordinated, cooperating, collaborative association of voluntary, faith and community based organizations is one of the factors that lead to a longer recovery. The disaster response community rightly encourages such associations not just after a disaster but for preparation before disaster strikes. The faster a LTRG can begin to marshal resources when disaster strikes, the sooner survivors can be helped to find their new life post-disaster.

Churches on the front lines of disasters must be ready to move quickly

Apr 28, 2014

This week I read an article from the Episcopal Church about churches responding to disasters. Our churches, being locally based, are well-positioned to provide immediate aid after a disaster strikes. Through their community and larger relationships they can become a bridge to help neighbors recover. Congregations can prepare to serve in a disaster by taking steps now to ensure their facilities are adequate to meet needs when disaster strikes.

Read the story here.





In thanksgiving for Disaster Case Managers

Apr 04, 2014

As I spoke with a leader of the Staten Island Long Term Recovery Organization (SILTRO) about the developing recovery organization, we got onto the subject of Disaster Case Management (DCM). Normally, a Long Term Recovery Group like SILTRO builds on a foundation of strong DCM. Disaster Case Managers work with clients to develop a disaster recovery plan. They assist these clients to find and gain access to valuable resources and services.


Disaster Case Managers help individuals and families assess their capacity to recover. Together they look at personal resources, federal and state assistance, insurance and other connections to determine what the clients can do for themselves. Once these resources have been exhausted the Disaster Case Manager can bring the case to the Long Term Recovery Group for further assistance from voluntary construction organizations and the Unmet Needs Committee.


The SILTRO leadership understands the reason DCM usually forms the foundation of a well-functioning Long Term Recovery Group but, this leader stated, DCM in Staten Island is very weak. This caught me by surprise and prompted me to ask whether that statement is true for all case managers.


It turns out that the Lutheran Disaster Response of New York DCM stands out above most, if not all other DCM in Staten Island. LDRNY began its DCM program in the first weeks after superstorm Sandy and has served hundreds of clients. They currently have nearly 550 clients in their program that covers Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, and Long Island. Over the past fifteen months they have closed over 260 cases, most of them having successfully accomplished their recovery objectives.


In addition to providing DCM for survivors of Sandy, LDRNY also offers construction assistance through their staff construction manager and works closely with Lutheran Counseling Center to provide appropriate spiritual and mental health assistance for those who request it. LDRNY is also a donor at the New York City Unmet Needs Roundtable administered by New York Disaster Interfaith Services.


LDRNY Disaster Case Managers note the challenges that continue as they work with clients, the largest being the need for affordable rental housing, especially for section 8 cases. New York had a tight housing market before the storm that has only gotten worse as Sandy and the new federal flood maps have taken many units away. Another growing challenge is the level of frustration among those who continue to wait for services, especially those who continue to struggle with the great quantity of paperwork required by the many programs offering assistance.


For those ready to repair or rebuild their homes, the Case Managers find that reputable contractors are hard to find. Not to be overlooked is the growing evidence of hunger in surviving families that have had to choose between the costs of recovery and the cost of food.


Thanks be to God for LDRNY, their Disaster Case Managers, and those like them in other agencies. Evidence suggests that for every $1 put toward DCM, survivors receive at least $7 in benefit.


All God's children needed in disaster relief

Mar 27, 2014

"The group we hosted from Framingham, MA, affirmed that we are all God’s children even though we worship in different ways. These Unitarian Universalists proved that we are closer rather than further apart. About half of their group were young adults who gave up their spring break from high school to serve those in need. It was a delight to share our building with them." –Deacon Luana Schilling


baldwinvolunteersIn February, St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Baldwin hosted a youth group from First Parish in Framingham, a Unitarian Universalist congregation, that came to volunteer in Long Island. The youth slept on air mattresses in the congregation’s classrooms and used their ample kitchen facilities to prepare breakfast and dinner. Each day they traveled to nearby communities in order to work on homes damaged by superstorm Sandy. When their work day ended, they returned to the church after showering at the Baldwin Fire Department.

The youth and chaperones attended worship with the congregation of St. Peter’s and participated in the congregation’s youth group activity during the week of their stay. Tom Brady, the leader of St. Peter’s hospitality program, remarked how good it was to have these youth stay with them: "It was nice to have the extra voices for the hymns – and the youth of each congregation enjoyed the time they had to share with one another."


During the week, the group worked on several homes near Baldwin under the supervision of a construction supervisor from the United Methodist Church New York Annual Conference. NYAC leads volunteer groups in clean up and rebuilding efforts in Long Island and Brooklyn and continues to expand its recovery effort in New York and Connecticut.


St. Peter’s will continue to host volunteer groups for disaster recovery. Their next group, from Vermont, will come in June.


LCC addresses Sandy-related emotional and mental health issues

Mar 20, 2014

"Just as we expected, emotional and mental health issues related to Sandy started slow but have been growing after the storm."


In her presentation to the Annual Meeting of Lutheran Counseling Center (LCC), director Molly Blancke observed that the first year after a disaster is generally a time of shock as individuals begin to process and understand the real effects on them and their lives. As the initial shock wears off and realization sets in, people begin to manifest a variety of responses depending on their emotional and mental resiliency.


Lutheran Counseling Center received a grant through Lutheran Disaster Response of New York (LDRNY) to provide emotional and spiritual care in communities impacted by Sandy and to offer seminars and other training in schools and congregations. In 2013 they opened a temporary counseling site at Immanuel Lutheran Church, Staten Island, and offered disaster related counseling through their other offices in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Long Island. Their counselors were holding up to 110 sessions per month with Sandy survivors dealing with frustration, marital stress, substance abuse, verbal and physical abuse, depression, hopelessness, and feelings of insecurity caused by the storm. Much of this comes from the frustrations incurred in battling for funding for recovery efforts, loss of jobs either as a result of Sandy or the economy since the hurricane, and the effects of long-term displacement from homes; many have moved several times to and from hotels, homes of relatives, and other places.


In the first 15 months after Sandy LCC provided counseling services to 217 individuals and 123 families referred to them by congregations, social service agencies and other sources. Thanks to LDRNY, as well as LCC donors and Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, this counseling was offered at little or no cost to the clients.


Long Island and Queens school principals and early childhood directors took part in a monthly practicum that helped them to address mental health issues among their students, especially those reacting to Sandy. Parenting seminars, intended to help parents talk with their children about disasters and to recognize potential behavioral issues arising from Sandy, were offered in churches and schools. In addition, LCC provided free mental health wellness and healing seminars for congregations impacted by Sandy, helping participants to deal effectively with loss, frustration, anger and other feelings related to the storm’s impact on their lives.


For 2014, LCC plans to continue its counseling programs and expand its reach in Southwest Queens into the Rockaways through a new site at St. James-St. Matthew Lutheran Church. Continued funding from LDRNY will enable counseling to continue at greatly subsidized rates, even for free.


Regrettably, LCC has had to forgo an initiative to provide support to clergy impacted by the storm. They have been unable to secure the $25-30,000 needed for this program that would invite clergy to participate in guided conversations about their own mental and spiritual health as they also provide care to their members affected by Sandy.


Contribute to Lutheran Counseling Center



“We wouldn't have what we have without you.”

Mar 13, 2014

masticbeachThe village of Mastic Beach was one of many communities along the south shore of Long Island to take the brunt of Superstorm Sandy. Once mostly farmland and summer cottages, the community has developed year round housing in a lovely suburban setting with plenty of trees and open space. Part of the beauty of Mastic Beach is the surrounding waters of Bellport Bay and Narrow Bay, but those waters turned dangerous when the surge from Sandy drove them into the community flooding homes and businesses with up to four feet of water.

The towns and villages were unprepared for the storm, said residents of Mastic Beach and the neighboring Poospatuck Reservation. Over 55% of the community was inundated when the bay waters were pushed onto land. "We didn’t know what to expect." Many homes were flooded and some were knocked off their foundations.


The Mastic Beach Jubilee Center quickly set up their operations in St. Andrew’s Episcopal Parish to help their neighbors recover from the storm. With help from the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island they offer Disaster Case Management and rebuilding assistance to many in the village and on the reservation. Staff of the Jubilee Center comes from the neighborhood and are dedicated to helping their neighbors and the whole village recover.


In the many months since the storm many volunteer groups have come from New York and around the country to help at the Jubilee Center. "We wouldn't have what we have without you," said one staff member, speaking about all the volunteer hours put in at the Jubilee Center, "That's what it's all about."


The Jubilee Center is one of many organizations struggling to help the communities on Long Island’s south shore rebuild after Sandy. Volunteers have played an important role and will continue to do so for the many years ahead.


Volunteer opportunities abound in Long Island and New York City. Check out the Metropolitan New York Synod Disaster Relief webpage for ways you and your congregation can help.


Progress report, one year later

Oct 19, 2013

It has been nearly 12 months since Superstorm Sandy made landfall in New York, causing destruction and devastation in communities along the southern shores of Long Island and New York City, and damaging properties in many other areas. In the weeks after the storm, as synod staff assessed the impact on congregations, we discovered that several church buildings had sustained damage from wind and water. Of those properties, five had such significant damage that we wondered how they would recover, even whether they could rebuild at all.


Rather quickly, our ELCA network sprung into action. From within our synod and around the ELCA, congregations began to send help. Some sent financial donations to help clean up and restore congregation spaces, while others sent volunteers and other resources. With these generous contributions, our congregations began to recover. St. Paul’s in Coney Island had a nearly complete renovation to their building. St. John’s by the Sea in Long Beach, St. Barnabas in Howard Beach, and St. James in Gerritsen Beach each had water damage in their lower levels that took months to clean up and restore.


For some, the work is not yet complete. Both St. James and St. Barnabas continue to put the finishing touches on their spaces. St. Barnabas had by far the most damage to its property. Although most of the repairs to walls and floors have been completed, they have yet to restore their kitchen and replace the furnishings they lost to the water. According to Pastor Baum, the congregation has more than $15,000 in outstanding need without including kitchen appliances and cabinets.


More difficult to measure is the impact on those congregations that did not experience property damage but had members in the communities struck by the storm. Congregations, such as Oceanside Lutheran, had members whose homes in the surge zone were damaged. Many who lived in the impacted areas were forced to leave their homes; some of them decided not to return. The congregations had no opportunity to bid farewell to these vital members. The long-term impact to the congregations has yet to be felt.


As we move forward in our recovery, we hold these congregations in prayer with hope for their renewal. Our continuing support – financial donations and companionship – remains important to all those working to restore their homes, communities, and churches.


Hidden home losses

Oct 16, 2013

Recently, I toured several communities in Brooklyn that had been impacted by the storm surge. The purpose of our trip was to learn about the ongoing collaborative recovery efforts in those neighborhoods. We heard about the struggles these communities have faced and the hard work of voluntary agencies and organizations as they strive to rebuild homes and businesses.


In almost every conversation with the local leaders, we heard about the many homeowners who struggle to meet the costs of ownership, having lost income from apartments they maintained in their homes. These apartments are usually in lower levels of the home and are often illegal. Especially in the case of illegal apartments, funds for rebuilding are not available; nor can the homeowner access many of the services available from the government made available for recovery. Without the rental income these homeowners may face foreclosure.


Frequently, the former occupants of these apartments were undocumented immigrants or impoverished individuals who cannot afford the cost of "legal" rentals. After the storm, these people not only face the loss of their belongings, but the loss of their home as well. Indeed, what was their home may never be rebuilt. When the government counts the loss of housing from the storm, these homes go uncounted because they never officially existed.


In effect, the waters of the storm have washed away a covering from the ongoing housing crises of our area. Home prices have soared above the means of many to afford without extraordinary measures. Often low-income and undocumented populations are asked to shoulder the burden of overpriced housing by living in these illegal apartments. As we have seen, these apartments are subject to flooding, in addition to being below the accepted standards for living in our area.


Perhaps Sandy has exposed a crisis most of our communities have too long ignored. We have an opportunity now to advocate for more equitable housing policies in our communities. ELCA partners Habitat for Humanity - NYC, Nassau County and Suffolk County, as well as many organizations both local and national, bring voices together to call for fair housing for all. We can also join with Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services and other organizations that call for fair treatment of immigrants.


A day in the life of a disaster case manager

Jul 15, 2013

By Tristen Edwards


A typical day in the life of a disaster case manager (DCM) involves client meetings, attendance at long term recovery events, resource research, and client follow ups. The clients’ needs serve as the backbone of the case management operation. As new clients present different issues, the case managers must widen their knowledge of available resources and options for recovery. As a result, DCMs constantly improve their ability to meet the unique needs of each household and point clients in the right direction to assure that they attain stability.


Client meetings

DCMs contact their clients within 24 hours of their assignment by the supervisor. Intakes are generally provided by the referring agency so the DCM has some background on each client’s situation before making the initial phone call. During the first meeting, the DCM becomes familiar with the client’s case and assesses their most immediate needs. After the DCM has a strong understanding of the client’s main issues, he or she can begin to organize the steps that must be taken for the client to achieve recovery. This process manifests itself in the disaster recovery plan. This plan involves the various referrals made by the DCM as well as an agreed-upon schedule by which each step will be achieved. Referrals usually involve recommending that the client connect with relevant voluntary organizations and community groups, disaster related grants, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The DCM and the client take responsibility for different steps outlined in the recovery plan and, in this way, work together to reach each objective. The client and the DCM both sign the recovery plan as a way of committing themselves to completing each step. Once the recovery plan is signed and the meeting is completed, the DCM reiterates what steps each will take before their next conversation.


An essential part of the client meeting and of the continuing relationship between the DCM and the client is the blue folder. All DCMs are trained on how to use these comprehensive folders, which keep all client information, consent forms, referrals, and contacts organized in one place. The DCM documents every interaction made with the client or made on the client’s behalf in this folder. Intakes, needs assessment forms, and recovery plans are also kept in the folder in order to remind the DCM of the client’s progress and continuing need.


Long Term Recovery Group (LTRG)

Long Term Recovery Group meetings are immensely helpful for disaster case managers, as they include up-to-date information on what relief efforts are taking place in the community and as they provide an opportunity to make important contacts with resources that could benefit clients. Participation in the LTRG also includes outreach efforts. DCMs attend disaster recovery fairs and other community events, in order to spread awareness of the services that case managers provide and to connect interested households with a case manager.


Follow up, follow up, follow up

Client follow ups are a necessary part of a DCM’s day. DCMs must keep track of where their clients are in regards to the recovery plan. Client follow ups also include making calls to relevant volunteer organizations in order to track a client’s application status. DCMs must stay in consistent contact with their client, though the number of phone calls made each month will vary based on the severity of the client’s situation and on the client’s willingness to work actively with the DCM. Although the DCM is an important part of a client’s recovery, the most essential actor is the client. DCMs give their clients the tools to bring them towards recovery but it is up to these clients to decide how and if they will use these tools. One of the greatest challenges in a DCM’s daily work is remembering the limitation of her abilities to achieve a client’s recovery as well as the vital importance of the client’s own active participation in the process.


Self care

In a profession where the employee is consistently presented with another’s trauma, it is important to incorporate self care into the work day. Self care prevents case managers from experiencing compassion fatigue and burn out. Self care involves taking breaks throughout the day, refraining from answering work calls and emails outside of work hours, sharing difficult experiences with other DCMs, and taking action to prevent too much stress.



Long-term Recovery Groups and unmet needs

Jun 28, 2013

After a disaster, such as Superstorm Sandy in New York, homeowners who survive the destruction turn to their insurance companies for assistance in repairing their homes and recovering or replacing belongings. Inevitably, insurance does not cover all that an individual or family needs for full recovery, some do not have insurance, and they turn to FEMA for further assistance. FEMA offers limited cash assistance as well as a low-interest loan program administered by the Small Business Administration (SBA). The aide given by FEMA along with insurance and with other personal resources, can be sufficient for many to recover. Others need further assistance and often do not know where to turn: for these, Long Term Recovery Groups organize in order to address "unmet needs."


Long Term Recovery Groups (LTRG) consist of agencies, organizations, and faith communities brought together to share their resources, skills, and power in order to bring about a strong recovery in the communities they serve. Through Disaster Case Management (DCM), Volunteer Coordination, Construction/Rebuilding Coordination, Fundraising and Donations Management, as well as other activities, LTRGs address the unique needs of the areas impacted by the disaster, focusing on those least able to bring about their own recovery; the disabled, the elderly, and the poor. National disaster recovery organizations and agencies assist LTRGs to organize and develop for maximum impact.


One of those national organizations is World Renew (Green Shirts), the disaster response arm of the Christian Reformed Church in North America. World Renew specializes in assessing communities for unmet needs. When a LTRG is ready, the Green Shirts come to a community and, through door-to-door visits and walk-in centers, they survey survivors of the disaster regarding their progress toward recovery. They ask about the assistance survivors have already received, what needs they still have and the resources they have to meet their needs. The LTRG then takes the information collected and develops a plan to meet the unmet needs.


This spring, the Green Shirts performed assessments in the communities of Freeport, Shirley/Mastic Beach and Bablyon in Long Island. They had a very successful survey period, taking nearly four hundred clients. From their assessment they came up with over $3 million in unmet needs.


FEMA reports over 99,000 registrations in Long Island: the four hundred surveyed by World Renew make up less than one half of one percent of that number. If we were to assume that three-quarters of those who registered received sufficient aid from insurance, FEMA, and other sources, the remaining one quarter would still be 62 times greater than the number surveyed; therefore, the financial need would be over $200 million. Adding in Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island (assuming similar numbers), the need would be over $3/4 billion.


At this point in the recovery process it is impossible to know how accurate these figures are. With additional monies coming from the state and city distributions of federally authorized dollars, perhaps there will be less need. Still, what we do know is that the LTRGs have a huge task ahead of them both to keep track of the unmet needs of their communities and to raise the donations of money, time and supplies to meet those needs.

Progress report

May 15, 2013

Superstorm Sandy struck our shores just over six months ago. Wind and waves brought destruction and damage to lives, homes and properties. Among those properties damaged were six Metro New York Synod churches. Initial assessments indicated that it would take well over $500,000 to repair the damage. For some, the task of cleaning up and making the necessary repairs appeared impossible. Today, the picture is much different.


Sandy's winds ripped shingles from the roof of St. Peter's in Greenport. The congregation quickly learned that their insurance set their deductible as a percentage of the property value, well above the cost to repair. They made temporary repairs and set about finding ways to pay for a new roof. Today the congregation has made plans to fix the roof, after which they will proceed with plans to install solar panels, a project delayed by the storm damage. The solar project will provide electricity to the church so they will save on their utility bills.


St. John's by the Sea in Long Beach saw more than four feet of water in the church basement, destroying walls, floors, furniture and appliances in their kitchen, office and meeting space and damaging their elevator. Even while working to repair the building, St. John’s served as host to several groups that were flooded out of their usual locations. Thanks in large part to community volunteers and Jeff Peterson, a member of Our Savior's, Glen Head who organized work crews, the space has been largely rebuilt. The church has begun to think about what furniture and appliances they need for their office and kitchen.


In Howard Beach, Queens, St. Barnabas sustained extensive damage to the basements of both the church and parish hall. Repairs were initially estimated at over one quarter million dollars and will likely cost much more. The congregation has applied for and received some funding for their repairs. They have nearly finished the parish hall basement and have opened the space for use by community groups. In the church basement, electrical wiring has been replaced and walls restored. They are also in the process of relocating their electrical service from the flood-prone basement to the upper level. As with St. John's, this congregation has also begun to consider their need for kitchen appliances and furniture. They had to dispose of nearly all of their tables and chairs, kitchen cupboards, a commercial stove, and refrigerator among other items.


Similarly, St. James in Gerritsen Beach, Brooklyn, saw several feet of water flood their basement, destroying furniture and appliances in their kitchen, meeting rooms, and office. In addition, the winds tore shingles from their slate roof. It took some time for them to figure out how to begin their repairs. With some help from a contractor that had been staying in their empty parsonage and with assistance of neighbors, the congregation has treated their space for mold, replaced their electrical systems, and erected walls. Exterior doors that had been twisted with their frames are being replaced with more reinforcement. Hope has returned to this congregation.


St. Paul's, Coney Island is built on one level. When four feet of water swept through the building, every space was affected. Walls, doors, heating, electricity, floors, furniture, appliances and more became debris. Assistance from Immanuel, Manhattan has brought the church a long way toward recovery. New offices have been built and furnished; a new kitchenette, bathrooms, and a newly renovated sanctuary are all part of the recovery work.


Of all the churches to experience damage from Sandy, Trinity Lower East Side, Manhattan was quickest to recover. Food supplies for their feeding ministry that were destroyed by flood waters were quickly replaced and their elevator repaired, thanks to the many supporters of this valuable ministry.


A great deal of work remains to be done before our communities and our churches reach their goals for recovery from this storm. Still, we rejoice to see the progress that has been made in these churches. As our congregations recover, they can better serve their neighbors as centers of hope and healing after this storm and all the storms of life.


Six months after Hurricane Sandy

Apr 22, 2013

The Fifth Sunday after Easter falls almost exactly six months after Hurricane Sandy made landfall in our metropolitan New York area. For many, the long road of recovery hardly feels like we are in a time of resurrection. The losses are still fresh: many still have not returned to their homes; rebuilding is slow; resources are running low; questions remain as to how high to raise homes, and who will pay for it all? Although a great deal of work remains to rebuild our communities, many who had come to help have begun to move on to other disasters. This is the time when despair grows.


Into the hopelessness of this difficult recovery, John of Patmos shares his vision of "a new heaven and a new earth." God is doing something new and we are a part of that new creation. "See, the home of God is among mortals." The storm may wash away homes and goods, but it cannot take us from God. In fact, God goes where precisely where we need God most, into the places of despair and hopelessness.


"By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35). In less than two months, volunteers from ELCA congregations around the country will begin to flood the metropolitan New York area to help our rebuilding efforts. They are a sign of God’s loving and healing presence to those who have suffered loss in the storm.


"God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away" (Rev. 21:3-4). The loving presence of brothers and sisters opens our eyes to God’s new creation being born in our midst. Many in our synod are used to bringing this good news to others. Now, even as we saw in the month following the storm when Lutheran World Federation partners and our companion diocese came to us, those whom we have helped to see the new heaven and new earth will return that gift to us.


The storm surge brought the dark waters into homes and washed away many possessions. Jesus promises to give water as a gift. No longer something to be feared, this is the water of life. Returning to a theme from the Fourth Week of Easter, it is the "still waters" that restores our souls.


Finally, through the loving work of recovery that we enter together with those who were most impacted by the storm, we come to praise God along with all creation. We learn to join our voices even with the "stormy wind fulfilling his command!" (Psalm 148:8)



A Prayer for the 5th Sunday of Easter, 2013

Annemarie Noto

Gracious God, you are the Lord of hosts, the god of Jacob, our refuge and strength.

Yet six months ago, today, many of us felt abandoned. 

The Storm "Sandy" had changed our geography. 

We prayed the psalm: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

Homes and properties and lives were changed. 

Mountains shook in the heart of the sea,

waters roared and foamed, the lines demarking sea from shore disappeared. 

But then it was as if the angels descended from on high. 

Congregations here and in distant places organized work crews.

They came by car and truck, and busload, overwhelming us with their love and generosity.

God, you did hear our cries; the light has begun to shine in the darkness.

Yet, we are not finished. 

Recovery can take years, but we are being strengthened daily.

The light of your love, your Son, who overcame his storm:

That is the peace that passes all understanding.



Download additional worship resources from Lutheran Disaster Response.


One hundred and fifty days

Apr 03, 2013

The recent announcements from FEMA that they have extended registration deadlines and Temporary Housing Assistance remind us that we are still in the intermediate phase of disaster recovery. We continue to assess damages: physical, emotional and economic. Long-Term Recovery Groups have been developing. The process of recovery is slow, but we can see progress.


Five congregations of our synod experienced flooding in the storm. St. Barnabas in Howard Beach had the greatest damage and continues to struggle to accomplish over $250,000 worth of repairs. They have completed renvoating most of the parish house basement but still have to finish the church basement with its large kitchen. Pastor Baum and members of the congregation are working hard to find monies to pay for the needed repairs, including relocating the building’s electrical service upstairs away from any future flooding. In Gerritsen Beach, Brooklyn, St. James has begun its repairs as well. After treating the church basement for mold, they are putting up sheetrock and installing kitchen cabinets and appliances. Progress at these churches is a hopeful sign, but we still have a long way to go.


Thanks to help from congregations in our synod and from other partners, St. John’s by the Sea in Long Beach, St. Paul’s in Coney Island, and Trinity Lower East Side have all recovered quickly from the storm damage. Most of the restorations have been completed at their facilities, with only a few small projects left.


Out on the North Fork of Long Island, St. Peter’s, Greenport, experienced damage to its roof. They have made temporary repairs but need over $50,000 – less than their insurance deductible – to make a permanent fix.


The damage to buildings tells only part of the story, however. Congregations in Freeport, Oceanside, Seaford, Massapequa, Baldwin, Cedarhurst, and other towns along the south shore of Long Island have seen members relocated sometimes far from their congregations. Those who have remained or who have returned find it difficult to continue their former patterns of giving in the congregation because all of their resources are going to repair their homes.


Our congregations in the storm-damaged areas continue to need our support; contributions, prayers, and companionship are important in these days. The synod prayer team is providing resources for our congregations and members to hold one another in prayer as we approach six months from the storm (April 28). Financial contributions to the synod’s Sandy appeal will help us to support all these ministries. Together we will weather this storm.

Highlighting the work and the needs of the Coalition of Concerned Medical Professionals

Mar 11, 2013

By Luz Figueroa, Coalition of Concerned Medical Professionals


Following the massive destruction from Hurricane Sandy, Coalition of Concerned Medical Professionals (CCMP) volunteers joined with residents of affected areas of Staten Island, Brooklyn and Queens to form the ad hoc Disaster Relief Health Impact Committee (DRHIC) to act on both the immediate and long-term impact that a disaster of this magnitude has on the health and well-being of residents already battered by the daily economic disaster of job losses and government cuts to health care programs. Volunteers and resources are urgently needed to continue our ongoing disaster relief efforts in the coming weeks and months.


The Church of the Holy Redeemer at 2424 Linden Blvd. has played a critical role in the DRHIC since its inception, providing a staging area for unloading, inventory and distribution of tons of donated food, bottled water, cleaning and sanitary supplies, construction materials, and other disaster relief assistance thanks to the generosity of congregations and individuals who learned of our independent, all-volunteer efforts. Members of Church of the Holy Redeemer, including Emma Speaks and Dr. Herman Ambris, have participated weekly in DRHIC’s distributions of supplies and other relief activities.


Since 1973, CCMP has built a free-of-charge preventive medical benefit involving volunteer physicians, dentists and other medical professionals, as a means to demonstrate that medical care can be provided regardless of ability to pay, while building a longer-term fight for comprehensive medical care as a right.


In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, CCMP volunteers began calls and visits to check on merchants, professionals and other CCMP participants whose offices or homes were located in areas suffering the greatest devastation. As a consequence, initial DRHIC volunteer crews did visits and supply distributions to Staten Island, Coney Island, and the Rockaways. CCMP’s regular free-of-charge General Medical Sessions expanded to include disaster victims met through DRHIC community outreach who requested to see a doctor.


CCMP soon learned of storm and flood victims right in the neighborhood of its office in Canarsie, and Emma Speaks involved members of her own family who arranged the first distribution of supplies in Canarsie at the Bayview Community Center, on December 22. Of the 19 requests filled that day for supplies consisting of bottled water, cleaning and hygiene supplies, 13 households complained of recurring mold infestations in the Bayview Housing Units.


Graduate students from the Long Island University Public Health program joined DRHIC, along with students from CCNY, Hunter College, members of Emmanuel Episcopal Church and other volunteers, in door-to-door canvassing on East 101 St. in Canarsie, filling requests for emergency supplies and documenting the need for mold abatement and other home repairs.


CCMP and DRHIC’s disaster relief work led to an invitation to join community meetings in January called by the Deputy Borough President representing Canarsie. As a result, DRHIC has developed an information and referral relationship with other independent organizations willing to assist in repair work necessary to render homes habitable. DRHIC is also calling on the city to demand federal disaster relief accountability and for immediate allocation of the $50 billion in federal disaster relief funds in the face of the widespread mold infestation problem that some health experts indicate may pose the greatest general public health threat in the history of New York City.


In coming weeks, CCMP and DRHIC will be organizing health information sessions by experts on proper mold abatement procedures and will continue to canvass storm-stricken neighborhoods and conduct follow up advocacy and collection and distribution of needed supplies.


CCMP urgently needs volunteers to join in door-to-door canvassing, benefit casework and advocacy, driving, organizing collections of needed supplies and a variety of other activities. All volunteers received on-the-job training in all organizing skills.


CCMP desperately needs a donated, good-running vehicle to replace its vehicle destroyed by the storm. Funds to cover additional expenses of transportation, postage, as well as heating and maintenance of its 7-day-a-week operations at its central office are also needed. Please call 718-469-5817 if you can help or need help.


Disaster Relief Health Impact Committee Needs List

High protein canned goods and non-perishable foods: tuna, salmon, chicken, sardines, beans, brown rice, soups, whole-wheat pasta

Baby food and formula, cribs, strollers, diapers, baby wipes

Cleaning supplies

Hygiene supplies

Water resistant down coats

Water resistant, mold resistant sheet rock


Flashlights & batteries

Tyvec hazmat suits

Personal Protective Equipment: respirator masks, suits, gloves

Electric blankets

Paper towels


Washing machines and dryers



Ecumenical soup supper raises funds for relief

Mar 07, 2013

Southwest Brooklyn Lutheran, Methodist, Episcopal, Roman Catholic, and Presbyterian parishes gather each year during Lent for a soup supper to raise awareness of local and regional need. A free-will offering is designated to support a corresponding charity. Participants come to share soup and bread donated by local shops and restaurants and to converse with members from the various Christian communities in the neighborhood.


The Bay Ridge soup supper tradition began in St. Anselm’s Roman Catholic Parish over ten years ago. It grew to include parishes of the local cluster, and five years ago they invited Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church to co-host the event. Our Saviour's invited other partners to join in the supper so that it became a truly ecumenical event.


This year, the planning committee for the soup supper chose to give the offering to support the work of disaster recovery after Hurricane Sandy. As Disaster Response Coordinator for the Metro New York Synod, I spoke to those gathered about the ongoing needs and the efforts of those who have dedicated themselves to the recovery.


Recognizing that the church bodies represented at the supper have all been active in disaster assistance, I emphasized that we have only begun our work. Disaster response will continue for several years before our communities will have reached a new sense of normal. I thanked the 200+ participants for their generosity in giving to support disaster relief efforts. The event raised over $2,000 that will be distributed to individuals directly affected by the storm.


Participating churches included Bay Ridge United Methodist Church, Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, Our Lady of Angels Parish, Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church, Redeemer-St John’s Lutheran Church, St. Andrew the Apostle Parish, St. Anselm Parish, St. Bernadette Parish, St. Ephrem Parish, St. John’s Episcopal Parish, St. Patrick Parish, Salam Lutheran Church, Union Church of Bay Ridge, and Zion Lutheran Church.


Soup and bread were donated by Yellowhook Restaurant, The Family Store, New Corners Restaurant, Fortune Cookie Restaurant, Chadwick’s Restaurant, Reliable Italian Bakery, Marie Sidoti, Il Fornaretto’s, Grandma’s and Damascus Bakery. This year three individuals also donated homemade soups: Brother Michel Bettigole, O.S.F., Mr. Stephen Conforte and Ms. Danielle Nuccio.

Hearings regarding FEMA aid to churches

Feb 07, 2013

On February 7, 2013 the Finance Committee held a hearing on a proposed resolution (Res. 1655-2013) asking the U.S. Congress to change the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act so that FEMA can provide assistance to houses of worship damaged by Hurricane Sandy. Representatives from churches and synagogues in Brooklyn and Queens attended the hearing and provided testimony on the importance of houses of worship in their communities.


Houses of worship provided aide to Sandy victims immediately after the storm. Even those houses of worship nearly destroyed by the storm surge found ways to help their neighbors. Some noted that FEMA and other agencies called on houses of worship to serve as headquarters and distribution centers in the storm-ravaged areas. "If we call on houses of worship in times of disaster, we should support them when they suffer disaster," was the sentiment expressed by many who testified.


It was noted during the hearing that 86 houses of worship in New York City had registered with FEMA as of February 1. One question of the hearing was, "Under FEMA, non-profits that provide critical care are eligible for aide, so why are they denied?"


baumtestifiesELCA Pastor William Baum (far right) of St. Barnabas Lutheran Church spoke of the extensive repairs needed to restore the areas of his church used by five Girl Scout troops and other community programs at no charge. He distinguished between the worship use of buildings, often only a few hours a week, and the community use that takes place in those buildings throughout the week. "The very people who would normally pull together to support a building restoration campaign by giving generously of their resources are unable to do so," he said, speaking of the Howard Beach families that make up the membership of St. Barnabas. "Their own resources have been seriously diminished by tens of thousands of dollars."


Dr. Paul de Vries, president of the New York Divinity School, said that current FEMA policy treats houses of worship as "outsiders" to the community. He said that the policy is "ignorant of the soul-care needed by victims."


"Our buildings are not houses of worship: We can worship anywhere," said one rabbi. "Our buildings are relief centers."


Councilman Domenic Recchia, chairman of the Finance Committee, concluded the hearing with a recommendation to all houses of worship that have suffered storm damage to register with FEMA. They should also submit application for Small Business Association loans when FEMA aid is denied. SBA loan application does not mean a congregation must accept a loan, but keeps open the possibility of FEMA assistance.