By Kim Plummer Krull
While Congress and insurance companies continued to crunch numbers concerning Superstorm Sandy financial assistance, congregations in the LCMS Atlantic and New Jersey Districts made Christmas a bit happier for families who lost their homes and for those still living without electricity.
Volunteers visited some of the hardest-hit communities during the days before Christmas, distributing thousands of gift cards, “flood buckets” of cleaning supplies and other emergency supplies made possible with the help of caring donors from throughout the Synod, including through the “Gift of Christmas” giving opportunity.
Many of the deliveries also included a book about the first Christmas.
“To be able to go into neighborhoods and help someone buy a Christmas present or some food or go out and eat because they don’t have a stove to cook on, that was like sharing Christ’s love,” said Tom Cusanelli, who is coordinating Sandy disaster response for the Atlantic District, which includes eastern New York.
A small sampling of those assisted included:
- Thirty-eight families of elementary school students in Far Rockaway of the Queens borough of New York City, identified by a social worker associated with the school. People in that area, one of the most devastated by Sandy, struggled with poverty before the superstorm made life there even more challenging, Cusanelli said.
- Residents in another area of the Rockaways, where the Rev. Steven Roth, pastor at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Laurelton, N.Y., and some two dozen volunteers distributed gifts to residents they had met on previous visits.
- In New Jersey, LCMS members went door to door to share Christmas gifts with families, including into devastated communities along the shore where the most homes and businesses were flooded, said the Rev. Anthony Iovine, a member of the New Jersey District Disaster Response team.
“These are families who still don’t have running water, electricity or heat,” he said. “It was a very moving day, with a lot of crying and praying.”
“There were many hugs, tears and prayers that were shared with our new friends,” Roth said in an email report. “A father of five was in tears as many gifts were carried into his home for his children. There were several people who want us to come back into their home for a house blessing. Another couple, with a newborn child, wants to come to Good Shepherd and have me baptize their child.”
“The gift cards that people could use at Christmas helped them with short-term needs that can be difficult for others to gauge, and the local banks gave us good deals by not charging fees. That’s only a few extra dollars, but for a family that has lost so much, that means a lot,” Iovine said.
Turning to long-term recovery
More than two months after Sandy, both districts are now turning their attention to long-term recovery needs, including many that became apparent through the “Gift of Christmas” outreach.
Plans are in the works to set up staging areas to receive and distribute building supplies and to help accommodate future volunteers to assist with rebuilding.
On Wednesday, Jan. 9, the Rev. Glenn F. Merritt, director of LCMS Disaster Response, and the Rev. Dr. Carlos Hernandez, director of Church and Community Engagement, returned to the East Coast to meet with district and congregation leaders to follow up on the “Gift of Christmas” outreach and focus on the church’s role in long-term recovery efforts.
“While the government and other organizations have struggled to stay engaged in their response to Sandy, the districts and churches have remained fully engaged from day one,” said Merritt, who first trekked to the East Coast immediately after the Oct. 29 superstorm that damaged or destroyed some 642,000 homes and businesses in New Jersey and New York, according to news reports. “That engagement will continue in the new year as we seek to help meet needs others overlook.”
At the close of 2012, the LCMS had provided a total $180,000 in grants to the Atlantic and New Jersey Districts for “Gift of Christmas” outreach, a portion of the total $556,000 in grants awarded for Superstorm Sandy relief efforts in the United States.
In addition, a total $20,500 in LCMS grants has been made possible by donors to help with international needs caused by Sandy, including grants to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Haiti and to the Cuban Lutheran Mission Society.
Among the most recent LCMS grants awarded to assist with Sandy recovery are to:
- the New Jersey District to assist families who want to start repair work before insurance settlement checks arrive. “There’s a lot of waiting right now for insurance companies or FEMA [assistance]. The winter season in New Jersey is not the warmest, and so many have lost homes or are still waiting to get electricity,” Iovine said.
- Lutherans Capital Area Relief Efforts (LCARE) to establish centers to coordinate rebuilding in hard-hit communities with no LCMS church. The centers will store material goods and tools and, if possible, house volunteers, said the Rev. Derek Lecakes, Atlantic District Disaster Response coordinator. “We want to help with recovery efforts and also provide spiritual care, hopefully planting a church to serve eternal needs that go beyond this disaster.” LCARE is a group of 12 Atlantic District congregations that work together in disaster-response ministry.
- the LCMS Southeastern District, for assistance with case management in Crisfield, Md., an area where Sandy also caused substantial damaging floods.
The New Jersey disaster-response team planned to meet Thursday, Jan. 10, at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Point Pleasant, to focus on how the district can work with local churches, he said, to “minimize problems during what is a very hard and difficult time.”
Volunteers may be needed as soon as late February to assist with rebuilding efforts, Lecakes said. District leaders urge those interested in lending a hand to register with Lutheran Church Charities, the LCMS Recognized Service Organization that is serving as volunteer coordinator, at www.lutheranchurchcharities.org.
For more about Sandy recovery needs and efforts, visit the Atlantic District (www.ad-lcms.org), New Jersey District (www.njdistrict.org) or LCMS Disaster Response (www.lcms.org/disaster) web pages.
To support those affected by Superstorm Sandy and other natural disasters or man-made calamities:
- 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).
Kim Plummer Krull is a freelance writer and a member of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Des Peres, Mo.
Posted Jan. 10, 2013