By Linda Bloom*
From Santiago, Cuba, to Criswell, Md., to Far Rockaway, Queens, Staten Island, Brooklyn, Long Island and the Jersey shore, the recovery efforts began. The survivors shared common threads of need: immediate relief, assessment, repair, rebuilding and renewal from the emotional and spiritual toll. Here is a look at what has happened.
New Jersey: Four priorities identified
A Future with Hope, the Sandy recovery organization of the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference, identified four priorities — meeting immediate relief needs of shelter, food and clothing; assessment and repair of homes; rebuilding homes with volunteer teams and assisting with renewal from Sandy’s emotional and spiritual toll. Bobbie Ridgely is the director.
United Methodist volunteers mucked out about 2,000 homes in New Jersey. A Future with Hope expects to reconstruct 300 to 500 homes over the next few years. The conference has hosted 4,523 volunteers from 21 states who logged 58,000 hours.
For a complete look at what the church did, go to Hurricane Sandy: The church responds.
This fall, 31 homes had been completed or were under construction, with 28 more being assessed. Seven families had moved back into their homes. Statewide construction projects include Atlantic City, Highlands, Ocean Gate, Sayreville, Port Monmouth, Oceanport, Monmouth Beach, Keansburg, Sea Bright, Manahawkin, Lanoka Harbor, Lavallette and Union Beach.
Churches and parsonage repairs have been handled through the conference cabinet, Ridgely said, but volunteer teams have worked on construction at Belmar United Methodist Church and Grace United Methodist Church in Union Beach.
Long Island, N.Y.: Rebuilding more complicated here
United Methodists set up Sandy relief sites in Massapequa, Rockville Center and Freeport. Peggy Racine is the Long Island Sandy site coordinator.
Between November 2012 and September 2013, those processed a total of 2,081 volunteers who logged 12,949 hours at 349 homes. The majority, 1,558, were dispatched from Massapequa, with 174 from Rockville Centre and 325 from Freeport.
Cleaning and gutting out damaged homes “continued for many months,” Racine said. “There are some homeowners who are still living as if Sandy hit yesterday.”
Rebuilding here is more complicated than in other states. “There are so many regulations that we have to work through and so many permits that, in some cases, it has slowed things down,” explained the Rev. Tom Vencuss, Sandy recovery manager for the New York Annual Conference.
Brooklyn, N.Y.: Coordinating to get going
Brooklyn had no existing disaster mechanism when Sandy hit, and the New York Conference disaster response office hosted by St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn “became a coordinating place,” said the Rev. Wesley Daniels.
Daniels, the pastor of Calvary United Methodist Church in the Bronx, set up that office in November. His assistant is Gillian Prince, who had assisted in the conference office with Hurricane Irene disaster response.
Many Brooklynites were unprepared for the flooding from the storm surge and sewer backups. Most did not have flood insurance. A number of groups involved in Brooklyn’s long-term recovery organization had no experience with disasters, Daniels explained, or did not have the connections and resources available to United Methodists, including experienced volunteers and Early Response Teams.
United Methodist Committee on Relief staff and consultants offered expertise, and Terry Wood, a Federal Emergency Management Agency liaison person and United Methodist from Virginia deployed immediately after Sandy, was able to “really guide us in the right direction,” Daniels said. Both Daniels and Prince praised FEMA for being “really, really hands-on” and assisting with the process.
The basement of Sheepshead Bay United Methodist Church, a couple of blocks from the water, was flooded and then was set back by poor repair work by a contractor. Volunteer teams have been reconstructing the lower level.
Staten Island, N.Y.: Recovering for six to 10 years
Early on, the Rev. Matt Schaeffer, pastor of Bethel United Methodist Church, coordinated the denomination’s disaster response on Staten Island. A number of volunteers came to do clean-up work, but no United Methodist teams have participated there since June.
Schaeffer is part of the volunteer coordination committee for the Staten Island Long Term Recovery Organization. “Our task has been to secure sites where volunteers can stay,” he explained. Bethel and Faith United Methodist Church on the north shore are among the congregations that have opened their doors to teams.
Rebuilding has been complicated by issues related to insurance claims and the city’s buy-back program for residents affected by Sandy. “Estimates (are) that we’ll be recovering for the next six to 10 years,” Schaeffer said.
Far Rockaway, Queens, N.Y.: Targeting renters, jobless immigrants
This area received national attention during Hurricane Sandy when at least 110 homes burned to the ground Oct. 29 in the Breezy Point neighborhood.
But many of those in need after Sandy’s floodwaters are in low-income rental households. That’s why the hot-lunch program at United Methodist Center in Far Rockaway, operated by the New York City Society, became more important than ever after the storm.
Now, a partnership with UMCOR and the New York Conference will use a $500,000 Red Cross grant to hire a social worker to take care of unmet needs in the Rockaways.
The target group, according to the Rev. Bill Shillady, City Society director, is those who have not recovered from Sandy because they live in rental properties that landlords have not repaired; have lost jobs because businesses closed; or are afraid to go to government agencies because they are undocumented.
Connecticut: Just getting started
The New York Annual Conference has a seat at the table with Connecticut Rises, one of the organizations overseeing the long-term recovery efforts in that state. The Rev. Tom Vencuss is working with their coordinators “to determine the best place for our efforts and support.”
Maryland: Long-term recovery still under way
At least 350 homes were damaged when Crisfield, a Maryland Eastern Shore town of about 3,000, took a direct hit from Hurricane Sandy.
United Methodist work there is administered through the Peninsula-Delaware Conference and supported with funds from UMCOR.
JoAnn McKenzie, United Methodist disaster case manager, said in September that she wishes more people were aware that long-term recovery is continuing in Crisfield. “In this community, you have a little piece of land where things are still done the same way they’ve been done for generations.”
Cuba: Rebuilding 100 homes
Most Hurricane Sandy damage occurred in the eastern part of Cuba, particularly the city of Santiago. On Oct. 11, UMCOR directors released a $500,000 grant approved earlier this year to rebuild about 100 homes, in collaboration with the Methodist Church of Cuba, and in cooperation with the Cuban Office of Religious Affairs.
“It’s the first time the Cuban government has allowed us to work in the general population in the rebuilding of homes,” said Greg Forrester, UMCOR disaster coordinator for the U.S., Latin America and the Caribbean. Additional funds will be allocated to rebuild or repair a dozen churches damaged by Sandy.