Six Months After Hurricane Sandy, Dioceses Continue to Aid Community Recovery

April 30, 2013

Six months after Hurricane Sandy made landfall in the northeastern United States, washing over coastal barrier islands and causing an estimated $50 billion in wind and flood damage, the Episcopal dioceses of Easton, New Jersey, Newark, New York and Long Island are continuing to aid impacted communities and facilitate recovery efforts.

Episcopal Relief & Development is currently supporting the work of disaster recovery coordinators in the dioceses of Easton, New Jersey and New York, and has helped establish a regional hub for volunteer coordination that that will connect mission teams with projects in all impacted dioceses. These coordinators are working with Episcopal congregations, ecumenical and community-based groups and a range of government agencies to assess needs and organize response activities.

“The Episcopal response to Hurricane Sandy has been huge and heartfelt,” said Katie Mears, Episcopal Relief & Development’s Director of US Disaster Preparedness and Response.  “Congregations in the impacted areas mobilized immediately to provide essential relief to people and families in need, and now we are working with dioceses to further equip them to drive recovery and continue reaching out to vulnerable people in their communities.”

Episcopal Relief & Development’s US Disaster Program contacted dioceses in Hurricane Sandy’s path in late October 2012, when weather predictions indicated that the storm's impact would be heavy and widespread. By then, the organization had already reached out to partners in the Caribbean, where the hurricane had blasted through Haiti, Jamaica and Cuba, killing dozens and causing severe damage. Dioceses and congregations in the US were encouraged to review their disaster preparedness plans and identify ways that they could expand existing ministries to address anticipated post-disaster needs.

Following the storm, Episcopal Relief & Development remained in contact with key diocesan staff to gather information about where damage had occurred and what the most pressing needs were.  Many Episcopal congregations launched into action, expanding their feeding ministries, providing basic supplies and gas cards, and hosting community agencies that connected people to services and federal disaster funds.  Many parishes also held events such as movie nights and community meals, providing respite from the stress of dealing with the disaster and creating space for people to talk about what they were going through and receive pastoral care.

While relief activities still continue in some locations, the recent focus of diocesan response to Sandy has been on strengthening capacity at regional and congregational levels to engage in rebuilding and other recovery activities.  The diocesan disaster recovery coordinators are charged with organizing and directing volunteers, and helping to develop ministries that will serve communities long after hurricane recovery is complete.

New Jersey disaster recovery coordinator Keith Adams, a retired federal disaster management expert with over 30 years of experience, is looking at storm response as an opportunity for the Episcopal Church to grow in service and in community. "We're looking to see how our parishes can be connected with each other, how they can serve each other, how they can develop mission capacity, how they can serve their community in a disaster," he said.  "Every day in New Jersey is a disaster for someone, and this storm is how the Church remembered it has responsibility for everyday vulnerable people.  People are stepping up, being called to do more."

Adams recounted how St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Keansburg opened its parish hall the day after the storm so volunteers could make sandwiches and offer food in spite of the power being out.  Now, St. Mark’s serves 125 people with two meals a day, and has connected with New Jersey Hope and Healing, an organization that provides social workers, mental health services, crisis counseling and nurse visits. 

In Staten Island, the Episcopal Diocese of New York’s disaster recovery coordinator, Darrell Hayes, is also focusing on building relationships with impacted community members and organizations in order to build homes for the most vulnerable residents impacted by the storm.  As a retired NYPD sergeant, Hayes has extensive experience in organizing and directing teams of people, and says that his current work is a “natural fit.”  Coordinating with case managers from a Lutheran organization active in Staten Island, Hayes finds work sites that require insulation, sheetrock, plastering or painting, and then matches volunteer teams with those skills.  Hayes also meets frequently with fellow members of the Staten Island Community and Interfaith Long-Term Recovery Organization, and particularly the rebuilding committee, to discuss progress and address challenges.

Hayes related the story of a "surprise success" at one of his job sites in Staten Island:  "We had a group of construction workers from [Clark Construction in] Maryland come up and completely rebuild a home in three days," he said.  "They donated the materials, the manpower and the skilled workers.  They even did the trim work and left two welcome mats at the doors.  They were actually disappointed that they ran out of time and weren't able to paint!  The company even made a very generous donation to the rebuilding effort."

Hayes continued, "It was really an amazing experience to have met and worked with this incredible group of men that took time out of their busy lives to help a family repair their home that was so severely damaged by Hurricane Sandy."

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, congregations in the Northeast and across the country renewed interest in disaster preparedness, creating or reviewing preparedness plans and reaching out to other churches and community-based organizations to make contact and build relationships.  Episcopal Relief & Development’s US Disaster Program offers resources for preparedness planning, which can be downloaded for free from the organization’s website.  The program has also published tips and how-tos for disaster response ministries, and offers support through the Partners in Response team and Diocesan Disaster Coordinators.  More information is available at www.episcopalrelief.org/USDisasterProgram.

To volunteer for Hurricane Sandy response work in Easton, New Jersey or New York, please visit the regional volunteer page hosted by the Episcopal Diocese of New York: http://relief.episcopalny.org/

Episcopal Relief & Development is the international relief and development agency of the Episcopal Church and an independent 501(c)(3) organization. The agency takes its mandate from Jesus’ words found in Matthew 25. Its programs work towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Episcopal Relief & Development works closely with the worldwide Church and ecumenical partners to help rebuild after disasters and to empower local communities to find lasting solutions that fight poverty, hunger and disease, including HIV/AIDS and malaria.

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