Features

True grit

"True grit" Continued...

Issue: "Divided we stand," Dec. 1, 2012

In the middle of the Midland Beach neighborhood, Oasis Christian Center, a church roughly the size of a bungalow, buzzed. The storm wiped out the church’s Sunday school classrooms and youth pastor’s office, but once the members cleaned those rooms out, the church opened for business. Several Staten Island pastors, though not officially connected, formed a coalition and divided the neighborhood by blocks, giving each church a set of blocks, with Oasis as the nerve center. “We may not agree perfectly doctrinally, but those relationships are there,” said Dave Watson, a pastor from the northern part of the island who is friends with Oasis pastor Tim McIntyre.

The power-less neighborhood would grow dark around 4 p.m., with the end of daylight saving time, but the church served hot meals and had generators running. The Mennonite Disaster Service set up a camper in the yard by the church and began funneling its supplies through the church. National Guardsmen hauled debris with their hands. Teenagers from the public high school across the street came to help. A pastor from Pennsylvania had hauled in $750 of gas for generators, a rare commodity. Eventually church members had to spray-paint a sign on the front of their building saying, “NO MORE DONATIONS.”

Hoboken, N.J. 

April Harris for the last 30 years has run a food pantry, In Jesus’ Name, in Hoboken, N.J. But when people needed a food pantry the most, Sandy destroyed Harris’ entire inventory. People who had food stamps couldn’t use their EBT cards because power was out, so this was the moment for In Jesus’ Name to step in. But Sandy filled the pantry with 5 feet of water, even though the pantry is eight blocks from the water and has never flooded more than a few inches.

Five days after the storm, Harris splashed through the wreckage of the pantry, the sludgy water mostly pumped out. She handed me a cardboard box, wet from the flood. This box, she said, is a miracle. Everything was destroyed but this, the most critical item to her post-storm operations: a box full of cards with the names and addresses of the 500 families that regularly come to the pantry. The bottom of the box was soaked, but the cards were stacked in order in the box, and dry. She assumed it floated on the surging waters, but it didn’t make sense that it survived when her other files in the same spot were ruined. The water tossed her refrigerator onto its side—but not the box full of cards. With the box, she knows all the families to check on, and to prepare food for. The people who didn’t have food before the storm would be even more vulnerable afterward, she knew.

But where to find food? More miracles showed up: World Vision had canvassed the neighborhood and learned of her need, and began dropping off boxes of food. Families from some of the 12 churches Harris partners with, as well as middle-schoolers from a local Christian school in the same building, Mustard Seed, were helping her set up a temporary pantry. She had a day of hungry people to get through, but she could see her work stretching for many more days. “The city’s been doing a great job, but what about the poor after?” she said. “After the big relief effort, the impact is going to go on.”

Toms River, N.J.

Dozens of relief volunteers with Samaritan’s Purse were sleeping at the Church of Grace and Peace, in Toms River, N.J., and woke up to no power and 8 inches of snow from the nor’easter on Nov. 8. They made a hot breakfast on their gas stove, dug their trucks and equipment out of the snow in the parking lot, then schlepped out to chainsaw fallen trees and tear wet sheetrock and insulation out of houses under snow. Brent Graybeal, the program director on site for Samaritan’s Purse, called his wife back in North Carolina and asked what she thought about having Thanksgiving in New Jersey.

A few miles from the church, police checkpoints guarded the Silverton neighborhood closer to the water, so only residents and relief workers could enter the ruined area. For days after the storm, the neighborhood was so flooded that even military trucks got stuck, so no one was allowed in. Now the residents were returning to see how bad the destruction was.

Jane Geoghehan, 73, is a nurse and a paramedic who lives in the neighborhood. Immediately after the storm, she stepped up to do emergency response, even though her knee replacement was bothering her. She and other paramedics took care of the people the military was rescuing from flooded homes. Meanwhile, everything in her house that she has lived in since 1960 was washing away. Geoghehan’s home never flooded more than a few splashes in the 50 years she had lived there.

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