By Kim Plummer Krull
Nearly three months after Superstorm Sandy, eight elderly, single women struggling to resume their lives along the hard-hit New Jersey Shore were among those offered a helping hand with debris and tree removal by Shepherd’s Heart Ministry.
“All the women had limited access to help, financial or otherwise,” said David Hildebrandt, Sandy relief coordinator for the LCMS New Jersey District, one of several volunteers who served Jan. 14-16 with Shepherd’s Heart, a ministry of the LCMS Southern District and a partner ministry of LCMS Disaster Response.
Along with helping clean up Sandy’s mess, the volunteers prayed with the homeowners. They put one woman, who said fear had kept her housebound for more than a year, in touch with Luther Memorial Church in Tinton Falls.
“It was very gratifying that we could help these women, and as we did, also have an opportunity to share our faith,” Hildebrandt said.
That physical and spiritual outreach by Shepherd’s Heart was made possible with the help of the most recent grant to the ministry from the LCMS. That’s just one example of the total $580,000 in LCMS grants for Sandy relief efforts in the United States through Jan. 23.
In addition, a total $20,500 in LCMS support has assisted with Sandy recovery internationally, through grants to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Haiti and to the Cuban Lutheran Fellowship.
In December, congregations with the LCMS New Jersey and Atlantic Districts distributed thousands of dollars in gift cards, flood buckets of cleaning supplies and other emergency supplies generated by donors from throughout the Synod, including through the “Gift of Christmas” giving opportunity.
Now both districts are focusing on long-term recovery, including assisting families and communities identified through “Gift of Christmas” outreach.
Urgent housing needs
One of the most urgent needs is for housing, said the Rev. Dr. Carlos Hernandez, director of LCMS Church and Community Outreach, who returned to the East Coast Jan. 9-13 with the Rev. Glenn F. Merritt, director of LCMS Disaster Response.
“So much looks the way it did right after the storm. Very little has happened,” Hernandez said. “Families are waiting on decisions that need to be made — decisions by the states, the counties, the cities on what they can and cannot do, whether they can or cannot rebuild.”
Merritt and Hernandez met with ministry leaders working on Sandy recovery efforts, including:
- a proposal by the East Brooklyn Churches (EBC) to make housing planned for construction as part of the newest Nehemiah housing development in Spring Creek, N.Y., available to Sandy survivors. Two LCMS congregations — Risen Christ and St. Peter’s Lutheran Churches — are longtime members of the EBC, which developed the pioneering faith-based model for affordable housing for low-income families.
- continued outreach coordinated through Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Point Pleasant, N.J. “The winter season in New Jersey is not the warmest, and so many have lost homes or are still waiting to get electricity,” said the Rev. Anthony Iovine, a member of the New Jersey District Disaster Response team which met Jan. 10 at the church 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.”
LCMS Disaster Response also continues to facilitate work in the region with other ministry partners, Merritt said, including with Lutheran Counseling Services of Florida for respite and pastoral care and the Indiana division of Orphan Grain Train for material supplies, including flood buckets and blankets. Merritt and Hernandez plan to return March 8-9 to stricken areas.
Other recent LCMS grants for Sandy recovery include those awarded to:
- the New Jersey District to assist families who want to start repair work before insurance settlement checks arrive.
- 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,” Lecakes said of LCARE with 12 Atlantic District congregations working 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.
Ministry leaders say volunteers may be needed as soon as late February to assist homeowners with rebuilding.
“People who can lend a hand with demolition, sheet rocking, painting and other construction needs can be a big help to homeowners who are having all kinds of problems with insurance companies and FEMA,” said Tom Cusanelli, Sandy relief coordinator for the Atlantic District, which includes eastern New York.
The chainsaw-equipped Shepherd’s Heart Ministry is expected to continue tackling debris removal in New Jersey until March. An additional 200 households also have requested assistance, according to the New Jersey District’s Hildebrandt, who is in contact with the Rev. Ed Brashier, Shepherd’s Heart director.
To lend a hand with Sandy recovery, register with Lutheran Church Charities, the LCMS Recognized Service Organization serving as volunteer coordinator, at www.lutheranchurchcharities.org.
Christmas stories continue
Congregations continue to share stories of lives touched and relationships strengthened through the Synod’s “Gift of Christmas” outreach to Sandy survivors, including:
- 10 school families at J.R. Bolger Middle School, Keansburg, N.J., one of the most devastated areas along the New Jersey Shore. Hildebrandt shared an email from teacher Karin Burker, a member of Luther Memorial Lutheran Church in Tinton Falls, N.J., who talked about how the support “made a difference in the lives of students enabling the people of faith to connect with the needs of the community in the name of Jesus.”
- 38 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 already were struggling with poverty before the superstorm made life there even more challenging, Cusanelli said. “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.”
- 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.
“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.”
While working with Shepherd’s Heart Ministry, Hildebrandt says volunteers “stood in total amazement” at the number of leveled homes. He cited a speech by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie reporting that some 41,000 families in that state alone remained displaced in January.
“The governor said cleanup and recovery are going to take anywhere from three to five years,” Hildebrandt said. After seeing the destruction firsthand, he has no doubt “needs are going to continue for a long, long time to come.”
For more about Sandy recovery, 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 Feb. 13, 2013