By Linda Bloom*
Nancy Werner, 61, was in despair last fall as her family started to clean out their Sandy-damaged home in Seaford, N.Y., on Long Island.
One day, she heard her husband, Harry, 62, who is retired, speaking to someone in front of the house. The Rev. Jeffry Wells, pastor of Community United Methodist Church in Massapequa, had stopped by to see if they needed assistance. The church had canvassed the area with fliers.
That conversation with the man she calls “Pastor Jeff” gave her hope. “He was standing there, but what I saw was God standing there in the midst of the destruction,” she said. “The outreach of The United Methodist Church has overwhelmed me. It was our lifeline.”
In Seaford, five United Methodist volunteers spent 30 hours gutting the Werner house. The actual renovation on their home of nearly 30 years did not start until months later, but by early October was almost complete. The Werners and their adult son, Harry Jr., 31, also have made a decision to elevate the house to protect against future flooding.
“Jeff was just a reminder that God is with us,” Nancy Werner said.
United Methodist assistance to Sandy survivors is focused on those having trouble recovering on their own.
“These are hardworking people,” said the Rev. Tom Vencuss, director of Sandy recovery for the New York Annual (regional) Conference. “People have used up whatever funds have been available to them.”
Low-income households, the elderly and disabled have priority, said Bobbie Ridgely, director of A Future with Hope, the Greater New Jersey Conference’s Sandy recovery organization.
Fixing a health hazard
Years before he became the owner of 3013 Howard Street in the Chelsea section of Atlantic City, Mauro Sandoval, 30, and his mother had rented a room in the house.
But Sandoval wasn’t aware of the danger Sandy would pose to the neighborhood he has known most of his life until he and his wife, Iyata, 33, saw the water coming.
With their two young daughters, Emma, now 3, and Maya, 1½, “we got in the car, drove through the water and drove out to Pennsylvania,” he recalled.
With money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the couple was able to buy some replacement furniture and a hot-water heater.
Believing that other families needed more help, they didn’t apply for further assistance until after attending a meeting of the Atlantic City long-term recovery group. Soon, Jay Tunnicliffe, a case manager for A Future with Hope, the Sandy relief organization for the Greater New Jersey Conference, contacted the family.
A health hazard was discovered. The Sandovals hadn’t realized that the force of the water had corroded a sewage pipe in the family room at the back of the house, said Katie Quigley, assistant construction manager.
Volunteer teams gutted out the floor and walls and, once a plumber replaced the pipes, installed new flooring. The next steps, Quigley added, are electrical work and dry wall.
Restoring an income-maker
Like other senior citizens who own homes in the Carnarsie section of Brooklyn, Hazel Gordon rents out her basement apartment to supplement her income. And, like the others, she did not have flood insurance when the storm surge from Sandy pushed water into that apartment.
Gordon, who received $5,000 from FEMA, was referred to the New York Conference by a neighbor. After a few too many knocks on the door from people who collected her information but never returned, she had been overwhelmed by the recovery process.
The Rev. Wesley Daniels and Gillian Prince, who coordinate the United Methodist relief work in Brooklyn, are now Gordon’s friends. In the beginning, “she was very reluctant about doing anything at all,” Prince said. “But she decided to trust us.”
Gordon had never experienced flooding in the 22 years she has owned the house.
She welcomed United Methodist volunteer teams from Tennessee, Ohio, Virginia and Alabama.
Forrest White, a Virginia volunteer who did work there, remembers the home-cooked meals she insisted on making for the volunteers.
“Miss Gordon personifies what we see in disaster response missions, people who so desperately want to give back to you whatever they can,” he noted.
Less than a year after the hurricane, Gordon happily gave a tour of the rebuilt apartment she was ready to rent. “If it wasn’t for them (the volunteers), believe me, it wouldn’t be the same,” she said. “A lot of people, even in this block here, still aren’t finished.”