By Susan Kim*
The Rev. Don Stevens was holding himself together until he came across a tote bag that had been drenched by flooding from Hurricane Sandy. “The bag was full of photographs, all of them ruined,” he said. “I had to pause and walk away.”With the help of volunteers, Stevens — pastor of Central United Methodist Church in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J.. — spent a chilly Tuesday this week pulling soggy items from the parsonage, sorting what was salvageable, and dumping the rest at the curb to be hauled away.
He looked up and down his streets, where his neighbors’ piles of ruined belongings were growing next to his own. “It’s unfathomable, the damage,” he said. “You can’t get your mind around the enormity of it.”
For many who have grown up on the Jersey shore, Hurricane Sandy is a historic nightmare. Some residents have heard word they may not get their power back until after Thanksgiving. Others are unsure whether they can ever go home.
For several days after the storm, Pat Groop-Applegate, a resident of Neptune, N.J., said she felt secluded in her home, which had lost power.
But on Nov. 4, the Sunday after Hurricane Sandy struck, she ventured out to Hamilton United Methodist Church, where she’s been a member for 52 years. “I didn’t have any connection with the world until I went to church,” she said. “Then I realized I could do something to help.”
Now Groop-Applegate, along with other volunteers, is cooking in the church kitchen as storm survivors and responders drop by the church to eat, get warm, and recharge their cell phones.
The church’s pastor, the Rev. Shelley Potter-Abrahamsen, joked about just how many meals her church volunteers are offering: “We’re actually providing one meal a day,” she smiled, “It’s just that the meal lasts all day long.”
Potter-Abrahamsen was surprised by the response to a simple sign she put out that read: “Come In and Get Warm.”
People came, and, even as a Nor’easter was poised to bring snow and more nasty wind to the region this week, they were still coming.
The Herschel family — Denise, Chris, and their four children— stopped in for a hot lunch and explained that they’d been without power and heat for nearly a week. After donating food themselves to a local food pantry, they brought the children to eat at the Hamilton United Methodist Church.
“I feel guilty eating here, but I don’t have any way for us to get a hot meal right now,” said Denise Herschel.
Potter-Abrahamsen reassured the Herschels that she was glad they came. “The more, the better,” she said. “We’ve had people come from the Assembly of God church and the Baptist church.”
She looked around at the bustling volunteers. “I just remembered there’s a group of Mennonite carpenters coming, too,” she said, smiling. “I’m thinking they can sleep in the choir room.”
*Kim is a journalist and a regular contributor to www.umcor.org.