By Paula Schlueter Ross
“It’s not about us,” says Tracey Stillman, whose congregation, Village Lutheran Church in Lanoka Harbor, N.J., has been caught up in disaster-response efforts as a result of Superstorm Sandy.
That congregation has been providing hundreds of free meals; listening to — and reassuring — those who are hurting, especially children; clearing debris; serving as a sort of base of operations for Lutheran disaster-response staff; and nailing down a myriad of other details.
The real story, Stillman says, should focus on those who need help: the 350-plus children in the local public school where she teaches who were “seriously affected” by the storm, plus at least 10 teachers and staff “who lost pretty much everything” and hundreds of others in Lacy Township, N.J. — and untold numbers in numerous places all across the Eastern Seaboard — whose lives have been changed forever.
At the school in the days following the storm, some of the students were cold, some didn’t have heat or electricity at home, Stillman said. “We didn’t give homework and we didn’t give tests, that’s for sure.” When children became distressed, she said, “we let them address those needs and helped them feel and talk about what was going on.”
In a class of special-needs ninth-graders, one boy asked another, “How’s your house?” His response was to hang his head and start to cry. His home — and his grandmother’s — had been totally washed away.
Stillman, whose husband, the Rev. Mark Stillman, is pastor at Village, said she “felt really guilty” because she and her family lost electricity for only 24 hours.
Since the Oct. 29 storm, the three-way ministry of Village and the local Methodist and Catholic churches to storm victims has “evolved,” said Stillman. The three congregations continue to help each other, with the Methodists overseeing much of the emergency housing and meals, the Catholic church organizing a large clothing drive and some meals, and the Lutherans taking charge of tree and debris removal (while funneling food, clothing, blankets and toiletries to the other two churches).
In fact, on Nov. 9, the day Tracey Stillman talked with Reporter, she was preparing to distribute fliers in the Lacy Township community advertising Village Lutheran’s free tree-and-debris-removal service.
The three churches, she says, are “absolutely” doing more together than any one of them could have done alone: “It’s kind of like divide and conquer.”
Now, almost two weeks after the storm, some in the community are still without power but things are getting better, Stillman says: Cell phones are working. Cleanup has begun. People are reaching out to one another as never before.
As her tree-removal flier pledges: Volunteers “are ready to show the love of Christ in a practical way by helping the residents of New Jersey with relief and recovery from Hurricane Sandy.”
Although Village Lutheran Church will be housing a number of out-of-state work crews beginning Sunday, Nov. 11 — experienced workers from the LCMS Southern District and Lutheran Church Charities of Addison, Ill., who will be assisting with chainsaw duty — only local volunteers are encouraged at this time.
According to Lutheran Church Charities, which will be organizing LCMS volunteers for Sandy relief: “Until the electricity goes on, waters subside, and roads are made passable, volunteers are not needed except for local volunteers [who] can drive in, serve and return home that day. There simply are not places for volunteers to be housed and fed. The first priority is to help the people who cannot go into their homes right now.”
More volunteers will be needed later on to help with cleanup efforts. For information, click here.
What is needed now, according to Lutheran Church Charities, are prayers for the people affected by Superstorm Sandy and financial gifts to help those in need.
- make an online gift at https://www.lcms.org/givenow/disaster.
- mail checks payable to “The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod” (with a memo line or note designating “LCMS Disaster Relief”) to The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, P.O. Box 66861, St. Louis, MO 63166-6861.
- call toll-free 888-930-4438 (8:10 a.m. to 4:10 p.m. CST, Monday through Friday).
In addition to Reporter Online, continuing updates about the Synod’s response to Superstorm Sandy will be posted on the LCMS website at www.lcms.org, Twitter (www.twitter.com/thelcms), the LCMS Facebook page (www.facebook.com/thelcms) and the Mercy Forever blog (http://mercyforever.lcms.org).
Posted Nov. 9, 2012 / Updated Nov. 13, 2012