|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 evoke images of a kitchen with chairs scattered in a thick layer of mud spilling into room after room. Like hundreds of other families in the neighborhood, this mother and parishioner of St. Clare’s Church is working with friends to rebuild. Hurricane Sandy knocked out walls, windows and fences, flooded entire homes, and sucked away everything from cars to backpacks filled with 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. They shared an update on all the initiatives enabled by the generosity of hundreds of people from inside and outside the parish.
Everything began from the simple impulse of charity that moved one neighbor to walk down the street to see how another is doing. It continued with accompanying each other, sharing needs, and facing what seemed like crippling circumstances. Sharing the common desire to reach out to those around them, a group formed within St. Clare’s parish and quickly began to work. Not satisfied just giving cash and a “goodbye,” the parish team continues to concretely accompany families as they return to their homes.
Within days, pink needs assessment forms were produced and taken to households even beyond the parish boundaries to ensure needs were identified and met. Donations began a new kind of flood, filling the small church building which houses a year-round bank for food and basic items. Because of gas shortages, volunteers coordinated strategic drop-off and distribution points. With only Facebook and word-of-mouth publicity, supplies were distributed to over 860 families who had filled out the forms. Many more walk-ins received food, water, clothing, cleaning or sanitary supplies, and other needed items. Additional support came to St. Clare’s, along with five other parishes the storm heavily affected, totaling over $1 million in 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 from supplying basic food or cleaning items, the parish is now distributing funds based on requests for furniture or appliances, coordinating the purchases with local businesses in order to support their bounce back after two months of lost earnings. “Clare’s Closet,” an initiative long planned at the parish school to provide slightly used uniforms at low cost, has surged after uniforms were directly donated to school families who lost their wardrobes to the storm.
Knowing that long-term recovery is more than merely providing things, the parish has teamed up with Better Homes Realty in a program called Storming Back…for Shore. It began on January 22 on Staten Island with 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 and the possibility of continuing free mentorship over the next year.
Challenged by tragedy, the cord tying the community together has grown even stronger, and has helped to build in the people a greater capacity to manage their homes and businesses. St. Clare’s pastor Msgr. Richard Guastella said that, though the storm brought many difficulties, the resulting generosity has made a deeper impression than the damage.
We can fill in the answer of our first question “Where to begin?”: it is possible to get up and start again when one realizes he or she is not alone. The touching story of one family exemplifies it. The letter that arrived from an unknown address in Louisiana seemed it could only be a mistake. Instead, it read “From a Katrina victim to a Sandy victim” and contained a gift card. Streams of friends stopped by for weeks to give neighbors a helping hand. Teachers spent their own money 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.”