The opening words of Paul’s letter to the church at Thessalonica seem an appropriate way for the Moravian congregations of Staten Island to share our thanks with you, our sisters and brothers across the Northern and Southern Provinces, for your amazing response to the needs generated by Superstorm Sandy!
The “UBC,” the United Brethren’s Church on Staten Island, is typically known for the grants that have come from either the Board of Elders or the Board of Trustees of the UBC. Perhaps it was a new boiler, a roof or a critical need for your parsonage; maybe it was one of those wheelchair lifts that have been added to so many buildings that serve an ever-aging population! Perhaps it was assistance in a new ministry or mission, travel expenses or an emergency need for your pastor.
Superstorm Sandy gave us the opportunity to seek help from you for an unexpected emergency need that destroyed many buildings, damaged others and strained the lives of many brothers and sisters in Christ on Staten Island.
To help, the Board of Elders of the UBC consulted with Eastern District Board President David Bennett and Provincial Comptroller Tina Giesler to set up a fund that would be run through the offices of the Moravian Cemetery. Donations to this fund would be distributed by the Board of Elders and financial reports would be provided to the District and Province as requested.
(The Board of Elders consists of the pastors of each of the three member congregations, New Dorp, Castleton Hill and Great Kills Moravian Church; plus two members elected by each congregation to serve for a term of two years. In addition, one lay delegate and the Pastor of Vanderbilt Avenue Moravian Church are invited to sit on the board, ex-offico, with voice but not vote.)
After only one brief bulletin insert, an article in the Moravian magazine and a mention on moravian.org, donations began to pour in not only from the sister congregations of the Northern Province, but also from our sisters and brothers in the Southern Province! To date, we have received $98,741.29 from all of you, your gifts of love and your offering of hope.
We are so very grateful, and deeply touched by your compassion and willingness to partner in this amazing ministry.
Once we received all that money, we felt an incredible obligation to use it wisely, and to get as many dollars as possible directly to homeowners and families. We elected to carry out the ministries that we felt best equipped to do — hospitality, clothing distribution and providing meals.
Here’s a brief summary of how your generous support was disbursed:
Direct Grants: $70,300.00
We created a simple form that applicants could use to request funds. We simply asked for name, address, extent of damage, hope for other sources of funds and a FEMA number. A FEMA number has become the standard identification, granted only to those households that lived in the flooded areas of the boroughs of New York City.
We gave grants of $1,800.00 each to families, friends and neighbors to assist with any expenses related to storm damage, or the needs of families struggling with displacement through the holidays and for months on end, to restore hope. Grants to the congregations of New Dorp, Castleton Hill, Vanderbilt and Great Kills were distributed in December 2012. Brother Michael Johnson, pastor at John Hus Moravian in Brooklyn, let us know of five families of the Hus congregation who also suffered extensive damage and loss. Each of those families also received a grant of $1,800.00.
We also recognized that there were a number of our families who opened their homes to friends and family members who lost homes. We extended grants of $500 to each of them to assist with the additional expenses for food and utilities.
Gradually, the word spread — sometimes, not so gradually! And, we have been able to give grants of $1,800.00 to neighbors and friends of the members and friends of our congregations. The last of the funds, just under $20,000, were disbursed in early July.
Agency Grants: $2,000
We donated $1,000 to the Staten Island Community and Interfaith Long Term Disaster Recovery Organization (LTRO) to use to purchase shoes and odd-sized clothes that are not frequently donated.
The South Shore YMCA of Staten Island has opened its facilities for use by mission teams traveling to Staten Island to assist in recovery. We donated $1,000 to the Y in gratitude for helping us provide hospitality for the many teams staying at Great Kills and the New Dorp congregations.
Gift Cards: $2,270.16
More than $2,200 went towards the purchase of gift cards at local grocery stores and home supply stores. The gifts cards were distributed to families and friends of the congregations and to “strangers.”
Hospitality for Volunteers: $2,194.80
These funds were used to provide communal meals when we had mission team volunteers who worked either on local homes or who assisted with the clothing sort.
Castleton Hill Moravian Church was able to pull together the resources and personnel to offer a clothing distribution in February 2013. At that distribution, we served 622 people, 194 of whom had been directly affected by Superstorm Sandy. There was an amazing heart-warming turnout of volunteers in both December and February to help with that extra distribution, including at least 11 Moravian congregations, and our ecumenical partners from St. Peter’s Episocpal Church in Port Royal, Va.
Those who provided help included Trinity (Md.); Grace (Queens); Central, East Hills, Mountainview, Nazareth and Schoeneck in the Lehigh Valley, Covenant (York) and the denominational staff from the Church Center in Bethlehem. The “usual” larger clothing distribution will again be held in August, with assistance from various congregations around the Provinces.
Great Kills and New Dorp Moravian Churches have opened their facilities to mission teams who have traveled to Staten Island to help with the work of recovery. The Baptist Disaster Recovery Team settled in at New Dorp for several months, deploying teams for removal of fallen trees, mucking out water and mud and offering hugs of hope.
Crews have come to Great Kills from North Carolina, Arizona, California, Pennsylvania, New York State and Indiana. Mission teams have “reservations” throughout the summer months, working with local neighborhood grass-roots organizations such as Occupy Sandy and Boot on the Ground. We have teams scheduled from Wisconsin, Florida, North Carolina, Indiana and Maryland.
Vanderbilt Avenue Moravian Church, with a thriving Community Dinner ministry, gathered their “cooks” and provided endless trays of food at the relief centers that grew in the beach neighborhoods along the coast.
The work will continue for years to come. Many homes remain unfinished, some families remain separated or displaced. Some are still living in FEMA-funded hotels in the greater Metro area. We invite your continued prayers on behalf of our neighbors.
It is our humble honor to be the face of the Moravian Church in North America, representing you as, together, we point to the power of love as shown us by our Savior, Jesus of Nazareth. We are living out our identity as Easter People, those who live in the hope of new life, the wonder of Christ’s New Creation. Thanks be to God.
The Rev. Maggie Wellert is pastor of Great Kills Moravian Church and chair of the United Brethren’s Church of Staten Island Board of Elders.
From the August 2013 Moravian Magazine