By Stan Friedman
NEW YORK, NY (November 21, 2012) – Ecumenical relief work led in part by Evangelical Covenant Church ministers continues providing essential assistance to survivors of Hurricane Sandy.
But, that ministry outreach also has provided a powerful faith witness to the hundreds of volunteers and recipients of their compassion and care.
More than 400 tons of food and other supplies have been distributed from the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx to people still in desperate need throughout the city.
Unloading the trucks, organizing the items, and transporting them has required hundreds of volunteers, many of whom have no religious affiliation.
Michael Carrion, pastor of Promised Land Covenant Church in the Bronx, has played a key role in organizing the work, and said, “We’ve had so many unchurched people come in, working side by side, and they just can’t believe that churches act this way, do things like this, can be so self-less, so self-sacrificing, to come into the most broken areas behind the zone. So, it’s been transforming for many that normally wouldn’t even walk into the church. They’re now working in the church – and actually working in church ministry.”
Carrion also is a board member of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition (NaLEC), which was given use of the armory to serve as a distribution center almost immediately after the storm hit. NaLEC has coordinated all of the work from the armory.
Most of the volunteers have been under the age of 40, says Ray Rivera, another NaLEC board member who is considered by many as the Latino John Perkins. “They are hungry for a holistic gospel,” he says. “This is a missional moment. It’s not just an ecclesial moment. This is where they get to see the church in action and not the cultural wars.”
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Jose Humphreys, pastor of Metro Hope Covenant Church in Harlem, said all the volunteers have been assisting and will need to continue helping survivors who have “slipped through the safety net.” He and others are concerned that people outside New York City will hear about billions of dollars pledged to relief and recovery, leaving the false impression that other contributions will no longer be needed.
“Much of that resource doesn’t hit the ground, especially the grassroots,” he explained. What is provided to individuals by money from FEMA and other government agencies will only cover a small portion of expenses, he adds.
Federal and local agencies have turned to churches for assistance to locate, identify, and provide for survivors. “It proves that sometimes churches have more inroads to the community than the social service agencies,” said Gabriel Salguero, NaLEC’s president and pastor of a local church.
Although the storm hit October 29, some people still remain without power. Each day, trucks leave the armory to carry supplies to people who have been the hardest hit.
Families will continue to need assistance for a long time to come. “A lot of people who live paycheck to paycheck haven’t been able to work,” said Carrion. Others have lost their jobs because many businesses won’t return.
The storm already has led to the possible closure of the day care center operated by Laurence Harbor Covenant Church, which was the congregation’s primary means of support, said East Coast Conference Superintendent Howard Burgoyne. Click here to read a previous story on the plight of the church and its members.
The church’s pastor, Ray Burnett, said this morning that city residents are pulling together to help each other. “But a lot of folks – too many to imagine – have lost everything in one fell swoop and are so shell-shocked, they don’t know where to even begin picking up the pieces.”
Although, organizers have welcomed products supplied by local organizations, the best way to help currently is by donating money. That way, they can purchase the specific supplies that are needed as well as stimulate a battered economy.
Money from Covenant World Relief and Covenant regional conferences has been essential, said Salguero, who expressed his gratitude. Fifteen minutes after money was sent from the Great Lakes Conference, it was used to purchase goods that were distributed within two hours.
“We appreciate all the support through the East Coast Conference, Covenant World Relief, and the Evangelical Covenant Church,” Carrion said. “We don’t know where we would be without you or what we would do without your support in this moment, in this time.”
Click here to donate to a special relief fund. The East Coast Conference is matching donations from people in its conference up to $25,000.