|Staten Island: Many hands helping rebuild in the months after Sandy|
“Walking back into the house, you don’t even know where to begin…” The words of this Staten Island resident bring to mind images of a kitchen floor with chairs strewn about in a think layer of mud, with room after room like it. Like hundreds of other families in the neighborhood, this mother and parishioner of St. Clare’s Church is working with the help of friends to rebuild one step at a time after Hurricane Sandy knocked out walls, windows and fences, flooded entire homes and washed away everything from cars to backpacks bearing the fruit of hours of study of the young residents.
Two and a half months after Sandy, a group from St. Clare’s Church, including individuals who have received help and representatives from the parish staff and volunteer relief team, expressed their gratitude to the supporters of AVSI-USA and members of Communion and Liberation who have contributed to the cause, and sent an update on all the initiatives that have flourished thanks to the generosity of hundreds from both within and outside of the parish.
Everything began from the simple impulse of charity which moved one neighbor to walk down the street to see how another is doing, and to accompany each other sharing needs and facing the perhaps daunting circumstances. Sharing the common desire to reach out to those around them, a group formed within St. Clare’s parish and quickly set to work. Not satisfied just handing out cash and letting people go their way, the parish team continues to work to provide a concrete accompaniment as families return to their homes.
Within days, pink needs assessment sheets were produced and taken to households even beyond the parish boundaries, and donations began a new kind of flood filling the small building which houses a year-round bank for food and basic items at the church. With gas in short supply, volunteers coordinated strategic drop-off and distribution points. With no formal advertisement but only by means of Facebook and word-of-mouth, the efforts distributed supplies to over 860 families with official pink assessments, and many more walk-ins who received food, water, clothing, cleaning or sanitary supplies and other needed items. Additional support came to St. Clare’s, along with 5 other parishes heavily affected by the storm, totaling over $1 million in the form of gift cards and tuition support from the Archdiocese of New York and Catholic Charities.
Just as impressive as the size of the outreach at St. Clare’s is the creative intelligence with which the team is responding. Transitioning forward from supplying basic food or cleaning items, the parish is now distributing funds based on requests for concrete furniture or appliances needed, coordinating the purchases with local businesses in order to support their bounce back after two months of lost earnings. “Clare’s Closet,” an initiative in the works for a long time at the parish school to provide slightly used uniforms at low cost, has taken off after a number of uniforms were directly donated to school families who lost their wardrobes to water damage.
Knowing that long-term recovery is more than just providing things, the parish has teamed up with Better Homes Realty in a program called Storming Back…for Shore which began on January 22 on Staten Island, holding monthly town-hall style workshops to help navigate the process of recovery including insurance claims, applications for state or FEMA grants, and selecting contractors and strategies to rebuild homes and businesses. Local professionals are volunteering their time to offer advice, with the possibility of continuing with a kind of free mentorship over the next year.
In the face of tragedy, we have been surprised again to see that the result is an even stronger fabric tying a community together, building in the people an even greater capacity to manage their homes and businesses. St. Clare’s pastor Msgr. Richard Guastella said that even though the storm brought many difficulties, these do not make as much of an impression as the resulting generosity that they have seen pour forth.
It is as if we can fill in the answer of our beginning question “Where to begin?” thus: it is possible to pick up and start again when one realizes he or she is not alone. The touching story of one family documents it: the letter that arrived one day from an unknown address in Louisiana that seemed it could only be a mistake but instead read “From a Katrina victim to a Sandy victim” and contained a gift card, the stream of friends stopping by for weeks to give a helping hand, the teachers who chipped in to replace books for the kids. In the words of the mother, “every time I sit in on our new couch…it is like the arms of God [through the St. Clare’s community] embracing us.”