By Arthur McClanahan and Linda Bloom, United Methodist News Service…
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y.—When John Stonick wants to show how high the floodwaters of Hurricane Sandy were as they swept down the street of his New Dorp Beach neighborhood on Staten Island, he raises his hands far above his head.
Mr. Stonick, who estimates he has been through six floods during his 60 years on Staten Island, barely had time to jump in his car and escape. Usually, he could handle such storms, but Sandy was exceptional. “Nothing like this in probably hundreds of years,” he said.
New Dorp Beach is among the New York communities that were devastated when Hurricane Sandy pummeled the region on Oct. 29. Mr. Stonick and other residents are receiving assistance through the UMC’s New York Conference and the United Methodist Committee on Relief.
He is thankful for both the practical and spiritual support. “I know people are praying for me. I pray for myself, too,” Mr. Stonick chuckled. “But I also pray for people praying for me.”
“So many people lost everything in that storm,” said the Rev. Matt Schaeffer, pastor of Bethel United Methodist Church and site coordinator of the conference’s disaster response center there on Staten Island.
Bethel hosted an early response training class a week after the hurricane. Soon, a routine for dispatching volunteer teams for clean-up evolved. “We’ve had teams rolling in from all over the United States,” he noted, mostly from places east of the Mississippi.
In mid-December, Scott Mikkelson, Bethel’s volunteer coordinator for Sandy relief, walked down a New Dorp block where United Methodist volunteer teams were working on 13 of the 40 closely-packed houses. “There’s hundreds of [damaged] blocks that are just like this [on Staten Island].”
How to help box:
Donations to the United Methodist Committee on Relief through Advance #3021787, Hurricanes 2012, can be made online at www.umcor.org or by calling (800) 554-8583.
Homeowners were a bit leery when volunteers first arrived, he explained, but word has spread that the United Methodists are here to help.
Mr. Mikkelson pointed to an example of the interior demolition work, which started at two feet above the high-water mark in a house and eliminates everything below because, as he noted, “the mold will grow behind the walls if it’s not removed.”
One of the volunteers, Barb Adams, is on her fifth volunteer trip to Staten Island from Poughkeepsie (N.Y.) United Methodist Church, a two-and-a-half hour drive north.
She knows their efforts are needed and appreciated. “Every time I bring a team down, I get emails asking when can we go back again,” she said.
Ms. Adams is well aware that this is only the beginning of the recovery. “It’s not the lead story in the news anymore, but you come down here and it’s still staggering every time you see a house like this,” she said, looking around a gutted interior.
Even six weeks later, her team found a house that had not been touched since the hurricane. “I wonder how many houses are still like that.”
Poughkeepsie UMC hopes to send teams to Staten Island several times a month for as long as it takes. “You feel like you make a difference, even if it’s just one little house, one little project,” Mr. Adams said.
New York Area Bishop Martin McLee says he saw the need to make the connection between volunteers and Sandy survivors during his own visit to New Dorp Beach in November.
He’s been pleased with the relief efforts from both inside the conference—where some 500 have recently received early response training—and outside, as teams have come in from 16 states, Swtizerland and Canada. “The result has been an amazing, on-the-ground effort,” the bishop reported.
Bishop McLee has appreciated the many messages of prayer that have come with the other forms of support. “It’s just wonderful to know that as a connectional church, we come together as family,” he says.
Dr. McClanahan is director of communications for the UMC’s Iowa Conference. Ms. Bloom is a United Methodist News Service reporter based in New York.