By Kim Plummer Krull
No congregations of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod are located in the Rockaways, but that was no detour for LCMS members who volunteered in those Long Island, N.Y., communities on Monday (Nov. 12), grilling and delivering hot food to Superstorm Sandy survivors, including many elderly residents in high-rise apartment buildings still without power.
Two weeks after the epic storm hit the East Coast, Lutherans from 14 LCMS congregations continued to lend a hand to disaster-weary New Yorkers in an area that the Rev. Dr. David Benke says is among the hardest hit.
“People are bereft, looking for help, looking for answers,” said Benke, president of the LCMS Atlantic District (which encompasses the eastern half of New York) and pastor of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Brooklyn.
At the request of New York City officials, St. Peter’s is serving as a disaster-relief staging center, helping distribute emergency supplies and coordinate volunteers.
On Nov. 12, those volunteers included young people from Atlantic District congregations who helped serve some 1,200 grilled hamburgers and hot dogs.
Alerted by city officials who said some Rockaways residents had been without a hot meal for nearly two weeks, the youngsters scaled multiple-stair flights in buildings with no functioning elevators to deliver food and LCMS Disaster Relief flood buckets of emergency supplies and toiletries.
“This is truly an example of mercy in action,” said the Rev. Glenn F. Merritt, director of LCMS Disaster Response, who announced an additional $25,000 grant to the Atlantic District for Sandy relief efforts. The funds will help cover the cost of hot meals, supply the St. Peter’s staging area and fill 500 additional flood-relief buckets with necessities for survivors of the massive Oct. 29 storm.
Also on Nov. 12, LCMS Disaster Response awarded a $9,500 grant to Evangelical Immanuel Lutheran Church, Whitestone, N.Y., to assist with temporary housing for Sandy survivors.
Immediately after the storm, the church’s pastor, the Rev. Dr. Johnson Rethinasamy, opened the church parsonage to five displaced families who lost their power. The congregation is now offering its Koinonia Mission House, typically used by ministry-related groups and mission teams on business in New York, to help families without power or shelter.
“There is very much suffering. The church is getting lots of calls,” said Rethinasamy, who requested the grant to help the congregation cover utility bills, food and emergency supplies for families staying at the mission house, which sits next to the church.
Concern for elderly, shut-ins
To date, the Synod’s disaster-response arm has provided a total $114,500 in emergency grants for the Sandy response in the United States, all made possible by LCMS donors. In addition, LCMS Disaster Response previously awarded a $10,500 grant to the Cuban Lutheran Fellowship for storm response efforts in Cuba. Another $10,000 is earmarked for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Haiti.
Recently returned from his second trek to the East Coast since Sandy, Merritt compared the needs in those storm-devastated communities to the devastation he saw after Hurricane Katrina.
“Wherever we went, it was glaringly apparent that needs were not being fully met,” said Merritt, who returned late Nov. 8 from serving with a Disaster Response assessment team.
Gasoline shortages, mass transit challenges and power outages continued to play havoc with recovery, he said.
“Everywhere we went, we witnessed line after line of people, either in cars or standing with gasoline cans in their hands,” said Merritt, adding that he is especially concerned about shut-ins and elderly people living without power.
Although electricity has been restored for many Sandy survivors, some 37,500 homes in the Rockaways are among those still without service because severe flood damage has made repairs unsafe, according to news reports.
Recovery from the Superstorm is going to take “a long, long time — three years or more,” Merritt said.
People in battered communities like the Rockaways and Staten Island are grateful for LCMS helping hands — and some are surprised, said Merritt, recalling his conversation with one man who was incredulous that Lutherans checked on him and others in an area without an LCMS church.
“He was absolutely amazed when we said this is what we do,” Merritt said.
As the Disaster Response director fields inquiries from congregations asking how they can help ease suffering, he stressed that financial gifts are most needed.
“Many people want to send clothing, but used clothing is not needed and there is no place to store it. It’s better to make a financial gift and let [storm survivors] buy what they need locally,” said Merritt, who recommends a FEMA resource, “When Disaster Strikes … How to Donate or Volunteer Successfully” posted on the LCMS Disaster Response resource page at www.lcms.org/disaster.
For more disaster response resources or to make a financial gift:
- 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).
Kim Plummer Krull is a freelance writer and a member of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Des Peres, Mo.
Posted Nov. 13, 2012