by Brita Rose
"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in." Matthew 25:35
This week marks the two year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy - the deadliest and most destructive of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season, as well as the second-costliest in U.S. history, next to Hurricane Katrina.
Officially an "Extra-tropical Cyclone," Sandy became the largest Atlantic hurricane on record affecting 24 states in the United States, with particularly severe damage in New Jersey and New York. Its storm surge hit New York City on October 29, flooding streets, tunnels and subway lines and cutting power in and around the city which cost the city over $68 billion in damages. At least 286 people were killed along the path of the storm.
The commitment of Good Shepherd, to offer hope and to help the community heal from these tragic events has played out through various local initiatives, as well as through involvement with the work of Faith in New York (FiNY) with whom Rev. David Rommereim serves as a co-vice president.
Immediately following the storm our neighboring church, St. Jacobi, in Sunset Park, provided a hub out of which the innovative grass roots initiative, Occupy Sandy, was able to operate. Occupy Sandy, an outgrowth of Occupy Wall Street was, with astonishing efficiency, able to organize and facilitate both volunteers and supplies to the most effected regions, in particular the Rockaways in Brooklyn.
Good Shepherd Church opened its basement gym as a storage space for supplies to be picked up by the steady stream of generous volunteers on their way to help clean up the damaged sites. The outpouring of help that week was incredible, from clothes donations and food preparation to medical assistance and clean-up. A first-hand account of that unique time can also be read on Good Shepherd's blog.
Good Shepherd also provided storage space for the initiative 'Hearts Connected' spearheaded by its Office Manager, Donna Lubrano. Clothes and other supplies were donated and stored for pick-up by those in most need. To this day, Hearts Connected (whose contact page can be found on facebook) is still giving out clothes to the poor, and portable heaters to Sandy victims. “Staten Island’s Midland Avenue and Coney Island were particularly damaged. Many uninhabitable houses have not been touched and people are still living with mold and temporary heating” said Donna. The work continues.
Two years later so many New Yorkers are still suffering from the effects of the storm and struggling to navigate the bureaucracy of Sandy relief. Moreover, the storm uncovered some long-standing inequalities that have existed in low-income areas of the city, and showed us the need to pay close attention to both poverty and climate change.
But there is a silver lining to this mammoth process of rebuilding. In addition to the encouragement of numerous grassroots service organizations and emergency response teams manifested by local faith ministries and others, FiNY, through their persistent hard work have made substantial headway in a reluctant city to help it heal from this devastating storm. By taking a prophetic stand for Sandy impacted communities, by calling for local hire in Sandy rebuilding, and by practicing creation care to help stop the effects of climate change by supporting climate jobs, FiNY has directly served and advocated for thousands of Sandy Survivors. In collaboration with ‘The Alliance for a Just Rebuilding,’ ‘New York Disaster Interfaith Services,’ and the ‘PICO National Network,’ its efforts have yielded positive results, as illustrated from the list of accomplishments outlined by FiNY below:
On October 15th, 2014 Faith in New York Clergy and Lay-Leaders meet with Mayor Bill de Blasio to discuss rebuilding Sandy affected communities through local jobs at the ‘Far Rockaway Recovery Opportunity & Resource Fair’ which was attended by 700 New Yorkers who were connected to jobs, resources and training programs. During a press conference at the fair the Mayor announced the ‘Build it Back Local Hiring Initiative’ and the ‘Rockaways Economic Advancement Initiative.’
On July 29th, 2014 over 1650 people of faith came together at The Greater Allen A.M.E. Cathedral of ‘New York for a Faith & Community Forum’ concerning the ‘Hurricane Sandy Rebuild,’ the above mentioned ‘Opportunity & Resource Fair’ was a direct result of the forum.
Faith in New York won passage of the New York City Council “Sandy Tracker Bill” (Bill no. 1040-a) on December 19, 2013. The legislation requires that all Sandy rebuilding projects receiving $100,000 or more in public money report important information on job quality and safety, including number of jobs created, the salary ranges, whether jobs are part-time or full-time, temporary or permanent, and the zip code of where each employee on the project resides.
Advocacy led to the creation of the $16 million (2,000 homes) Neighborhood Revitalization NYC ‘Mold Treatment Program’ after Hurricane Sandy. We secured a pledge of $1.2 million in emergency relief funds for undocumented Sandy victims from the NYC Commission on Immigrant Affairs.
Seeing the connection between Climate Change and Hurricane Sandy, on September 21, 2014 Faith in New York led the ‘People's Climate March’ in New York City with the ‘Hurricane Sandy First Responders’ contingent and joined over 400,000 people who marched for climate justice that day.
FiNY continues to stand with Sandy survivors through prayer and holistic Sandy rebuild operations such as those listed above. In one on-going effort, Faith in New York Far Rockaway clergy and lay-leaders discuss the need for their community to be rebuilt through local jobs as reported in this New York Daily News article - "Sandy victims want relief funds to go towards jobs in hard hit areas" by Jennifer Fermino, and in the New York Times article - "New York Today: Learning From Hurricane Sandy" by Annie Correal.
This week FiNY leaders met at a Far Rockaway vigil to pray for and remember the victims of this unprecedented storm. We see that their efforts have not been in vain and as part of the local faith community we, at Good Shepherd, join them in their prayers and support their continued efforts to serve those most affected and still struggling to restore their broken lives.
“O afflicted city, storm-tossed and not comforted, behold, I will set your stones in antimony, and lay your foundations with sapphires." - Isaiah 54:11