How Hurricane Sandy informs our response to Hurricane Harvey

One of the blessings of the United Church of Christ is its presence when disasters strike. The needs during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey are tremendous, and resources donated through the UCC, including our congregation, will be needed to provide humanitarian and clean-up assistance to many.

A few years back, I was able to support the relief effort about two weeks after Hurricane Sandy struck. One of my clergy colleagues and good friends pastors a congregation near one of the very hard-hit areas, and FEMA used their social hall as a distribution point for “meals ready to eat”, clothing, and other supplies. All of the box stores were sold out of basic needs, so he put out a call for a specific list of needed supplies.

A clergy colleague, the Rev. Brian Burke, and I decided we would make a road trip and take a minivan filled with supplies to Long Island.  I was on my way east to attend a training conference, with an empty van, and Brian had a few days he could stay in New York and fly back to Ohio. We put out a call for cash donations to our congregations, a few other congregations, and our Brothers and Sisters in the Order of Corpus Christi, thinking we would get a few hundred dollars to buy supplies. On the Saturday before we were leaving, we had gone to Sam’s Club and Lowes and bought just under $3000 in toothpaste, toiletries, paper towels, socks, underwear, hazmat suits, mops, bleach, mold inhibitor, batteries, and similar items based on those contributions.  Below is about $1100 of the Sam’s Club portion.

On Sunday, we received calls from congregations and individuals about further donations (including cash delivered to us), and so we stopped at a Lowe’s in Dubois, PA and added another $900 in cleaning supplies, arriving on Long Island at about 11 p.m. to unload. We thought we had taken a lot of stuff that would be very helpful. It was definitely helpful, but…


Brian spent the next two days in the social hall at Bethany United Church of Christ, East Rockaway NY.  The pictures that follow give you a sense of how much had been donated and the type of need that exists in an area serving just a few square miles of devastation:

Many had responded. While clothing was in abundance, and there was a filled semi-trailer of FEMA clothing sitting in the parking lot that never was touched, it was the cleaning supplies, food and toiletries that were in highest demand. 90% of what we delivered at 11pm Sunday night was gone by 5pm Monday afternoon.

Donations continued to come in, even after our trip to Long Island, and we had four more deliveries from Lowe’s sent to the church.  In total, the congregations and indivdiuals banded together to send almost $11,000 of desperately needed supplies to the East Rockaway area. Seeing the FEMA trailer loaded with garbage bags full of clothes that were never touched because of local donations has made me a firm believer that cash donations, to be put toward the greatest need, is the best way to help from a distance when there is no direct contact to be made. This is why we are supporting the UCC Disaster Ministries’ appeal.

To give you an idea of the physical devastation from the storm surge just a few blocks south of the church, here are couple of pictures Brian took when his host gave him a brief tour of the area:

Note in the picture above that you can see daylight through the window to the left of the door. Many homes were taken down to the studs because of mold and water damage. The inlet below is a short seven blocks from the church.

I hope that this personal reminiscence about Hurricane Sandy gives you a vivid picture of the type of assistance that is needed along the Texas Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. I’m asking you to donate generously to the UCC’s disaster relief efforts through our congregation or to another appropriate relief agency. Checks can be sent payable to the church, marked Hurricane Harvey, and we will forward your support.

I leave you with the words of the Rev. Mark Lukens, pastor of Bethany UCC in East Rockaway, NY to let you know first-hand what your donations mean.