By the Rev. Arthur McClanahan and Linda Bloom*
When Hurricane Gloria passed through Freeport, N.Y., in 1985, the floodwaters came within three feet of Henry Enders’ garage.
Last year, Hurricane Irene pushed water three inches into his garage.
He is as depressed about the loss of his fig tree and garden as he is about the fact that his house is gutted and $6,000 worth of tools was destroyed.
But Enders continues to find solace, as he always has, in Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.”
He’s also pleased with the United Methodist volunteer teams who have helped with his house.
“Without them, I would really be lost,” he said.
Mrs. Joel Distil, a Freeport resident who escaped her home in waist-high water, also has appreciated having a helping hand.
With assistance from the United Methodist Committee on Relief, the denomination’s New York Annual (regional) Conference has established volunteer centers in several locations on Long Island.
At Community United Methodist Church in Massapequa, the response was almost immediate.
As the Rev. Jeffry Wells drove around checking on congregants close to water after Sandy passed through, he quickly “understood the extent of the devastation” and contacted the Rev. Joseph Ewoodzie, the New York Conference disaster coordinator.
“By the next day, he had called me back and asked if we would set up a disaster relief center here at the church,” Wells recalled. Without hestitating, he said yes, a commitment that received “overwhelming affirmation” from the congregation.
A command post was established in what used to be the pastor’s office, explained Peggy Racine, a church member who serves as the program and volunteer coordinator. Seven days a week, they check in volunteers, take calls from homeowners needing help and dispatch crews for cleanup, demolition and debris removal.
In first six weeks, Community sent out more than 700 volunteers to respond to 172 calls from residents, with more than half of the initial relief work completed. The majority of volunteers come on weekends and include teams from fire departments and colleges.
“Getting the home in a safe and secure and sanitary condition is the most important thing for us right now,” Racine said. “But we also try to give the homeowners hope. So when we walk in the door, we listen to their stories and their situation.”
Wells agreed that the bigger challenge is helping people recover psychologically, emotionally and spiritually. Emphasis to teams going out, he added, is that “we’re first of all concerned about the human beings in this process of recovery and then, secondarily, the property.”
There is no question about the emotional toll. Angela, a 40-year resident, and her daughter’s family lost their vehicles and the first floor of the house. She has been living on the second floor, but planning to leave because there is no heat. But, she appreciates the efforts of volunteers sent from Community church. “They’re doing all the work that my flood insurance didn’t cover,” she said.
Angela feels more fortunate than those who have lost everything. “We’re all okay and that’s what matters.”
A relationship established after Hurricane Irene with the Long Island Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster has enabled the United Methodist Sandy volunteer centers to get volunteers from the region and beyond, said the Rev. Warren Ferry, Long Island East disaster response coordinator for the New York Conference.
His goal is to draw volunteers to Long Island over the next six months to two years to assist those affected by Hurricane Sandy “because, as everyone knows, these disasters take a long time to recover from.”
*McClanahan, director of communications for the Iowa Annual Conference, conducted and edited the video interviews linked in this story, which was written by Bloom, a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter based in New York. Follow her at http://twitter.com/umcscribe.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.