By Megan K. Mertz
“The living room portion of our house had been blown away,” said the Rev. Alan Steinke, recounting his first look at his Massapequa, N.Y., home after Superstorm Sandy pounded the Eastern Seaboard on Oct. 29.
Steinke, a retired LCMS pastor, and his wife, Marie, bought their Long Island house 13 years ago as a fixer-upper. Now they will have to start over again, but — like many others with storm damages — they won’t have to do it alone.
LCMS Disaster Response has pledged “the full material, financial and people resources of the LCMS” in support of the relief effort, according to its director, the Rev. Glenn F. Merritt.
After Sandy, Merritt led two assessment teams to the region to offer support and guidance to affected LCMS districts and churches. In addition to handing out gift cards and buckets filled with cleaning supplies, the teams helped coordinate the relief efforts of districts, local congregations, Recognized Service Organizations and other volunteers.
The first assessment team visited New York and New Jersey Oct. 31-Nov. 3; the second team visited Nov. 7-8. Traveling with Merritt on one or both trips were Synod staffers the Rev. Bart Day, director of the Office of National Mission; the Rev. John Fale, associate executive director of Mercy Operations; the Rev. Carlos Hernandez, director of Church and Community Development; and Al Dowbnia, director of Digital Media with LCMS Communications.
Day, who traveled through the superstorm-damaged areas with the first assessment team, described the situation as “unbelievable.” In the Rockaways, about 110 houses were destroyed or damaged by fire on Breezy Point, displacing some 300 people. Other areas fared better, although according to Merritt, gasoline shortages, mass-transit challenges and power outages continued to play havoc with recovery.
Recovery efforts were slowed on Nov. 7 by the arrival of a nor’easter that dropped several inches of snow on Sandy-damaged areas.
Concordia College–New York in Bronxville, N.Y., was without power for nearly a week, before classes resumed on Nov. 5. More than two weeks after the storm, some 37,500 homes in the Rockaways were still without power because flood damage had made repairs unsafe, according to news outlets.
But despite the challenges of damage, debris and power outages, many have stepped in to help. The LCMS Ohio, Southeastern, Eastern and New England Districts mobilized to aid their sister districts in Sandy-damaged areas. Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in Arlington, Texas, provided more than 350 flood-relief buckets to St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Brooklyn, N.Y., for those beginning the cleanup.
At the request of New York City officials, St. Peter’s is serving as a disaster-relief staging center, helping distribute emergency supplies and coordinate volunteers. On Nov. 12, those volunteers served some 1,200 grilled hamburgers and hot dogs to Rockaways residents.
In addition to St. Peter’s, Brooklyn, the Atlantic District is working to establish two other bases of operation in New York: one on Staten Island and another in Amityville. There also are plans to hire a coordinator to work with the various governmental and nongovernmental agencies involved in recovery over the next two years.
On Staten Island, three LCMS congregations — Christ Assembly, St. John’s and St. Matthew’s — assisted the community in the aftermath of the storm by distributing food, water, clothing and flood-relief buckets.
“This response is an example of how the training and preparedness provided by LCMS Disaster Response over the past five years led to a collaborative and coordinated response,” Merritt said.
As this Reporter was going to press Nov. 15, the Synod had awarded $114,500 in emergency grants for Superstorm Sandy recovery efforts in the U.S. The grants ($65,000 to the Atlantic District, $40,000 to the New Jersey District and $9,500 to Immanuel Lutheran Church in Whitestone, N.Y.) are being used to provide transitional housing, support emergency shelters, cover the cost of hot meals and flood-relief buckets, and meet other basic needs.
The LCMS also awarded a $10,500 emergency grant to the Cuban Lutheran Fellowship to replace roofs and for water-filtration systems. Another $10,000 in disaster aid has been earmarked for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Haiti.
Merritt predicts that more needs will surface as the gap between rebuilding costs and insurance coverage, plus FEMA assistance, becomes apparent. Volunteers and financial assistance will be needed to begin the rebuilding process and cover the costs of relocation, lost income and replacement of personal items.
LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison says he’s “thankful that as a church body we’ve been able, by God’s grace and help, to develop significant capacity locally and nationally. Our prayers continue for those suffering, even as we give thanks for great LCMS people who are putting the love of Christ into action on the ground.”
Resources designed to help congregations respond to disasters are available at www.lcms.org/disaster.
- “Mercy in Action: Preparing Congregations for Disaster Response,” a downloadable leaders manual for training disaster responders, including guidelines on forming a Lutheran Early Response Team program.
- Survival Kit project, an outreach tool for congregations and LWML groups that stock emergency basics for families as part of a disaster-preparedness plan.
- Downloadable worship resources, including a bulletin insert with information about how LCMS members can help meet needs in affected communities and prayers congregations can offer for Sandy survivors and first responders.
LCMS Disaster Response also offers grants to help congregations meet physical and spiritual needs in hard-hit communities. To learn more, contact Tracy Quaethem, administrative assistant for Disaster Response, LCMS Office of National Mission, at 800-248-1930, Ext. 1711, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
To help those affected by Superstorm Sandy:
- 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).
Megan K. Mertz is a staff writer with LCMS Communications.
Editor’s note: Some information in this story was reported previously in daily updates on Reporter Online. This “wrap-up” story appears in the December 2012 print Reporter.
Posted Nov. 21, 2012