By Sarah Gioe
When the winds died down, family members and neighbors called each other to check in after Hurricane Sandy. Synod staff started calling each congregation. Parish pastors started calling members, page by page in the directory. Some people had sailed through without even losing power while others were staring at the stagnant water in their basement—or the car in their living room—wondering where to start.
Sometimes it was hard to make contact, as cell phone service was spotty and those without power could not be reached by e-mail. Predictably, churches closest to the shore suffered the most damage. Trinity Lower East Side, Manhattan lost its soup kitchen and food pantry supplies when the lower level flooded. The congregation of St. Barnabas, Howard Beach was used to being a staging ground for the community in times of crisis but this time their own flooded basement was too dangerous to enter. The buildings of St. James, Gerritsen Beach and St. Paul’s, Coney Island were also badly flooded, while various parishioners on Long Island and Staten Island had lost houses and cars. Amidst all of the storm’s destruction, however, there was no loss of life and for that, a deep sense of gratefulness.
Throughout the synod, Lutherans were dealing with missing shingles, downed wires, long lines for gasoline, fallen trees, and lengthy power outages. Those that had been spared asked, "How can we help?" and started finding opportunities to do so. Saint Peter’s, Manhattan offered showers to those without power; Dobbs Ferry encouraged people to come by to charge their phones; Our Redeemer, Seaford served as a warming station for the neighborhood. St. John’s, Lindenhurst started serving two hot meals a day in their parish hall. With cots from the local fire department, Our Saviour, Port Washington was able to open its doors as a shelter. Displaced students from Breezy Point were welcomed at Leif Ericson Day School. Zion, Staten Island began collecting items for its South Shore neighbors almost immediately; Holy Trinity, Bellerose purchased heaters for those in West Hamilton Beach whose furnaces no longer worked. In Brooklyn, St. Jacobi and Good Shepherd became distribution centers for the Occupy Sandy network. Pastor Anthony Stephens of Our Saviour, Croton-on-Hudson deployed with the Army National Guard to support FEMA search-and-rescue efforts. In most places, All Saints worship took place the following Sunday, sometimes by flashlight or candlelight.
"How can we help?" was heard from afar as well. Lutherans from many other states quickly wrote of their prayers on our behalf. Pastor Heidi Neumark at Trinity, Manhattan received a call from an ELCA farmer in Illinois asking what she could send to help. Tree of Life Lutheran Church in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania offered to provide a tractor-trailer filled with donations; a team of volunteers unloaded it in under two hours at Holy Redeemer, Brooklyn and then teams worked to distribute 500 bags of food alongside FEMA. Inspired by the churches in Pennsylvania that collected an entire flatbed of supplies, the trucking company proceeded to collect enough to fill a second flatbed that was sent a few days later. A Lutheran congregation in Amsterdam, Netherlands wrote, "For you, as a synod, this will be a time of organizing work in order to help and encourage those in need. We will keep praying for all who struggle to overcome hardship and pain. May your efforts be a blessing to all you are serving. And, please let us know whether and how we could be of help to you."
Upon visiting the hard-hit areas of Queens, Pastor Chris Mietlowski noted that coordinating relief was tricky as the needs kept changing. Still, he said, "the road to recovery is going to be long, but with continued care and support, it will be fruitful." Together we are taking steps forward: mucking houses, clearing yards, and taking care of all our neighbors.
Visit our synod's storm recovery webpage here.