Hofstra Pulse Magazine

The Good Samaritans

A network of non-profits aid neglected areas affected by Sandy.

By Camilla Arellano

A woman picks up debris from her home. Photo Credit: Camilla Arellano

A woman picks up debris from her home.
Photo Credit: Camilla Arellano

For each heartbreaking story reported in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy’s destruction, there seems to sprout several others about altruistic acts to help. From first responders saving lives to homeowners offering shelter and a place to charge your phone, people helped however big or small. Charities and volunteers rushed into devastated areas all over the Northeast without hesitation and with only one thought in mind: “How can we help?”

Organizations like Samaritan’s Purse in North Carolina are no strangers to helping those in need. The evangelical humanitarian group has been responding to storms since the late 1990s.

Tim Haas, 47, from Boone, NC, is the manager of the U.S. Disaster Relief for Samaritan’s Purse. He sent program managers to observe exactly how bad the damage was and how far the extent of it reached. The job of the managers is to get into the area, set-up a program and leverage any volunteer aid needed. But even deploying volunteers was a challenge.

The first task was to find a stable location to set-up a main base site and office. In accordance with their religious spirit, Samaritan’s Purse always seeks out churches.

But with so many churches ruined or flooded from the storm, the organization bounced from church to church until they established a lasting residence just outside the Full Gospel Church in Island Park.

In the few months immediately following Sandy, the charity focused on removing everything that had been flooded or ruined by water to ensure that houses could possibly be rebuilt or saved. Furniture, flooring, walls; if water got to it, it had to go. Houses had to be sanitized and mold needed to be treated. When Haas came for two weeks in mid-December, he could not help but wonder how all the rebuilding would get done. “Some days were just overwhelming,” he admitted. But so was the outpour of volunteers.

In their Island Park chapter, which covers all of Nassau County, over 2,800 volunteers worked a total of 49,000 hours from November 1st to mid-February alone. On an average day, 80-100 volunteers would show up.

“If you give them the opportunity, people will go and help in a time of crisis,” said Haas.

A woman wears a mask while carrying parts of a  demolished home. Photo Credit: Camilla Arellano

A woman wears a mask while carrying parts of a demolished home.
Photo Credit: Camilla  Arellano

People came from all across the country. Off the top of his head, Mr. Haas mentioned Indiana, Virginia, Florida, Maryland, Vermont, North Carolina, California and Texas, just to name a few. He even recalled several groups coming in all the way from Hawaii.

“We started understanding that people were aware of Hurricane Sandy and its impact and would be so moved and so involved to come,” Haas said.
So far, Samaritan’s Purse has 8,600 dedicated volunteers who continue to restore and help rebuild houses.

“People need to be cared for. They need to know that there is someone out there who cares for them,” said Haas.

There are many others who have committed themselves since the beginning and continue to do so with no signs of stopping.

Chief Pastor Keith Boyd from Ft. Worth, Texas and Associate Pastor James Leonard of Trinity Baptist Church in New York City set up a mission called, “100 Saturdays.” It started immediately on the Saturday after Hurricane Sandy hit and will continue up until the end weeks of August.

Volunteers sign up to go to whichever location is in most dire need and often team-up with other religious affiliations or charity group workers. For the Saturdays of the first few months, the group went to the Rockaways, Breezy Point, Bell Harbor, even Coney Island.

After the New Year, they turned their efforts to Staten Island, a place that is still struggling to get back on its feet. The sidewalks are littered with massive heaps of fallen trees and branches, piles of rubble from homes, garbage dragged in from the water and a combination of sand and dirt, all of which sanitation has not been able to effectively clean. Homes, some abandoned, are now either rotting or lying in ruins.

Binding construction and sanitation laws keep government agencies from doing much at all. Yet again, it is the kind-hearted and determined volunteers that come through for these Sandy survivors. New Jersey-based Liquid Church has organized much of this repair work.

Volunteers clear out belongings  in an Island Park home. Photo Credit: Camilla Arellano

Volunteers clear out belongings in an Island Park home.
Photo Credit: Camilla Arellano

People like Ray Giunta, a director at the Staten Island rebuilding coordination, has never given up the chance to aid during catastrophes. In fact, Giunta has been part of many crisis-response teams including those to Katrina, the World Trade Center and the San Francisco fires.

Even with all of his experience, Giunta’s eyes still filled with tears when he talked about two little children that had to be temporarily adopted when their parents became homeless.

It is a testament to the horrors that Sandy has brought on. Yet more importantly, the fact that so many of these stories have happy endings, thanks to men and women like Giunta, is an even bigger testament to the quality aid these charities are giving.

“In all my years, I have never seen a coalition come together especially as organized as they have now.” Giunta said about the churches and volunteer groups from that have banded together to help areas affected by Sandy.

A volunteer clears debris.  Photo Credit: Camilla Arellano

A volunteer clears debris.
Photo Credit: Camilla Arellano

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