More than a year after Superstorm Sandy hit New Jersey and New York, volunteers are still needed.
Everyone is invited.
Superstorm Sandy made a mess of the coastline in October 2012. Much of that mess remains, says Karlson, who is disaster response coordinator with the Central East Regional Group (CERG) of the Unitarian Universalist Association.
There’s an old story here that people experienced after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. When that disaster was fresh, lots of volunteers rushed in to help. Then in the weeks and months and years that followed, as the disaster ceased to be a news item, volunteerism dropped off. The same thing has happened in Sandy’s aftermath.
“We had a number of congregations in New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Iowa who sent youth groups and multigenerational groups, but we’ve not had many inquiries from the rest of the country,” said Karlson. “We’re not getting media coverage of the continuing needs for survivors of Sandy and so many people think that the recovery is complete. But it will take years to restore these areas.”
The storm flooded and otherwise damaged hundreds of thousands of homes and destroyed roads, utilities, and other infrastructure. Buildings of UU congregations had only minor damage, but many congregants suffered damage to their homes and businesses.
Many houses have been rebuilt, Karlson noted, but there is still a great need for all types of workers. “We could use hundreds of people. We need people to do mold remediation, to install Sheetrock, and do grounds work, and many other things. A lot of the houses are barely livable and need some work to make them safe and comfortable. We’re not talking about building them back to how they were before; we’d just like to make them safe to live in.”
“Many people are still fighting with insurance companies and struggling to get benefits and other resources from FEMA and from insurance companies,” Karlson added. “Many people lost jobs.”
She wants to dispel the misconception that New York victims had more resources than those in New Orleans and thus don’t need as much help. “There are many low- income people here who were suffering before the storm. Many people in New York and New Jersey are renters and our area already had an affordable housing shortage well before Sandy. The whole metro New York area is so densely populated and housing is so much more costly than in many other areas of the country that people are struggling just to find some decent place to live. Many areas had small bungalows that were simply washed away.”
She added, “We’re hoping that groups will consider coming in for spring breaks and this summer. We walk with them every step of the way.” Two youth groups are coming in February, she said.
Visit the Sandy Volunteer Opportunities page on the CERG website for more information and to download a brochure.
There are also opportunities for short-term projects. She noted that many congregations are within several hours’ drive of the affected areas and could participate in the “Done in a Day” program coordinated by Presbyterian and United Methodist congregations, which puts people to work for six hours. CERG is a partner in that program.
Volunteer groups can be housed at many host sites, including nearby congregations and the Murray Grove Retreat and Renewal Center, a UU camp on the New Jersey shore. “We hope that groups can come for a week. That way they can meet and sometimes work with the homeowners and have a more meaningful experience.” This past August nearly forty UUs participated in a “Clean the Bay” event.
She said there is also a need for more housing for volunteers. She’s hoping congregations and individual UUs will volunteer to provide that service and to help provide food for volunteers.
Those who want to help can also contribute financially, including holding “Share the Plate” collections or making direct contributions. Karlson, whose ministry is supported by CERG and the Large Grants Fund of the UU Congregation at Shelter Rock in Manhasset, N.Y., said she would be happy to make a presentation on Superstorm Sandy needs at any congregation at a reasonable distance from the affected areas. Contact her at skarlson [at] uuma [dot] org.
“Rebuilding is going to take years,” Karlson said. “There is going to be an enormous need for volunteers. If congregations are looking for a service project, or people simply want to help, I hope they consider us.”
Photograph (above): In November 2013, members of the UU Congregation at Shelter Rock in Manhasset, N.Y., helped out with Superstorm Sandy recovery on Long Island. From left: Chuck Fenimore, Charlie Wagner, Barbara Reinfeld, Claire Deroche, and Lisa Simon (Courtesy UU Congregation at Shelter Rock).
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Donald E. Skinner was the founding editor of the InterConnections newsletter for congregational leaders and a senior editor of UU World from 1998 until his retirement in 2014. He is a member of the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Lenexa, Kansas.
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