UCC relief efforts after Hurricane Sandy helped build relationships
Written by Anthony Moujaes
October 29, 2013

Life changed overnight for thousands of Americans a year ago, when they found themselves in the path of Hurricane Sandy.  The superstorm, the second-costliest hurricane in United States history, struck the Atlantic coast on Oct. 29, 2012.  In the year since, people across the life of the United Church of Christ – from national offices, to conferences, congregations, and pastors – have come together as one church to care for those impacted by the storm.

Through the UCC's One Great Hour of Sharing, $289,484 in aid was distributed to UCC congregations and relief agencies to help affected people get back on their feet.

"The church has a commitment to stay for the long haul and accompany disaster survivors on the long road to recovery," said Susan Sanders. "We are grateful for the generosity of UCC members in prayer, financial giving and volunteer support, which make this special accompaniment real."

In the early aftermath of the storm, the UCC Disaster Ministries distributed grants to several UCC congregations in the disaster zone to support their community outreach. That relief provided food, shelter, and gift cards for families to purchase replacement clothing and other necessary items. As affected families began to clean out their homes, the UCC sent multiple shipments of personal protection equipment, so homeowners and volunteers could be safe while working around mold and other hazards.

The National Hurricane Center report indicated that Sandy damaged or destroyed at least 650,000 houses and left approximately 8.5 million customers without power during the storm and its aftermath. Early damage estimates exceeded $50 billion, estimates as recent as June 2013 figure the damage costs from Hurricane Sandy at more than $65 billion, a total surpassed only by Hurricane Katrina. At least 286 people in seven countries in the path of the storm died. In the U.S., a majority of the states on the eastern seaboard were slammed by the force of the storm, but the impact was felt in half the country. New York City got a direct hit, flooding tunnels and subway lines, and cutting power in and around the city.

First Congregational Christian UCC, in Irvington, N.J. has always opened its doors to the community through its food pantry. But after Sandy, and with the help of a $2,000 grant from One Great Hour of Sharing, the congregation became a shelter for a warm space, a hot meal, and eventually became a community center where displaced residents could get food and water.

"The church is known for helping. For the last 25 years we're known for our food pantry effort monthly and weekly," said the Rev. Dolores Watson, the congregation's pastor. "When this event happened, the township approached us for help, and because of the space we have and the heart that out people have it was a natural fit. The township needed somewhere where people who were put out could go.

"We just opened our doors," Watson said. "We helped whoever came to the door."

Serving line at the United Congregational Church of Bridgeport community supper, after Hurricane Sandy.

For about three straight weeks, First Congregational Christian acted as both shelter and distribution center for other churches in the area, and handed out food from the Red Cross and the Salvation Army, Watson said. First Congregational also received donations from sister churches in Pennsylvania via a truck trailer filled with water and supplies, and shared that with other churches in Irvington and surrounding communities.

A congregation in Bridgeport, Conn., United Congregational Church, helped distribute FEMA supplies because it was one of the few locations in town that stayed open to help families in need. The church was awarded $2,000, which it used to keep its community meal program and food bank running after the storm.

"We found during the storm that other congregations and other places had closed," said the Rev. Eleanor McCormick, associate pastor at United Congregational. "We were very fortunate to have that funding. It was widely publicized that we were one of the places that stuck it out."

That publicity help build a relationship with the community when United Congregational opened its doors to feed supper to families in search of a warm meal. One of the largest housing projects in the city is located near the church and many residents found food and supplies there in the two weeks that followed.

"Our neighborhood relations have improved," McCormick explained. "I think it was a pivotal movement where we solidified our neighborhood welcome. It was a time when the congregation bonded to do something after a scary crisis, and there was a deeper level of trust in what we do and why we do it."

Lynn Hudler, director of food center programs at United Congregational, added that in the year since Hurricane Sandy, "many of the people we were able to help come to us on a weekly basis, and we've formed a closer relationship with them through that."

Congregations and relief partners in New York were awarded $46,833 in grants, with $2,000 going to the New York Conference of the UCC to support and organize initial phases of assessment and response.

"Thanks to the money we received from our congregations and One Great Hour of Sharing, we've been able to do things ranging from renovating churches that were damaged, renovate space to accommodate mission groups, and help out with small repairs of churches and even homes of congregants," said the Rev. Freeman Palmer, associate conference minster for the New York Conference of the UCC. "We've even done retreats for clergy to address issues of anxiety in their role as caretakers [as a result of the storm}."

Palmer believes the recovery work in the New York Conference is still likely to take 3-4 more years. UCC Volunteer Ministries is directing people interested in mission work to the long-term recovery effort in New Jersey and New York.

Watson put it best when she said, "We tried to spread the word of the UCC and as we call it, 'Just doing Jesus' – that's our slogan."

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Ms. Connie N. Larkman
Managing Editor & News Director
700 Prospect Ave.
Cleveland,Ohio 44115
216-736-2196
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Mr. Anthony Moujaes
UC News Coordinator
700 Prospect Ave.
Cleveland,Ohio 44115
216-736-2211
moujaesa@ucc.org