Listening to news reports Tuesday about the widespread destruction from Hurricane Sandy, Scott Holmquist first reacted with shock at the disaster that had ravaged cities throughout the east coast. He said a prayer, thanking God that he was safely out of harm's way at his home in Asheville, N.C. And then he did something that would puzzle many Americans: he packed his bags and Bibles, hopped in a van with two fellow Christians and drove north all day with the goal of making it to the badly damaged New Jersey coast by the next morning.
Their aim: to assist victims in everything from clearing debris and mud from homes to getting food and, more uniquely, sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ to comfort the spiritually afflicted.
"Having been the recipient of so much in my life, I just feel like God is putting a care for others into our hearts," said Holmquist, 55, one of three teams of chaplains from the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team that have been dispatched from North Carolina to the northeast. "To be a part of that emotional and spiritual care in other peoples lives who have been devastated by this hurricane and now bigger-than-hurricane aftermath, it's so important."
As a wide swath of the eastern seaboard begins to recover from what's estimated to be at least $20 billion in hurricane-related damages, the help is pouring in. Federal recovery dollars are being funneled to state agencies, nonprofits are accepting donations, first responders are caring for the injured and neighbors are helping neighbors. But on top of that, people of faith -- locals and non-locals alike -- are slowly trickling into affected neighborhoods, offering aid of their own kind. Some groups, such as in the one Holmquist is in, aim to not only tend to the physical damage, but the spiritual pain, as well. Others, such as Islamic Relief U.S.A., which has set up shelters New Brunswick, N.J., and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which maintains food storehouses across the U.S., are motivated by faith but keep their services secular. Other faith-based organizations, such as the Jewish Federations of North America and Catholic Charities, both which have offices in cities across the U.S., have launched large-scale efforts to solicit donations for disaster relif.
For Holmquist, who was trained as a chaplain five years ago by the organization that is run by Franklin Graham, Billy Graham's son, this is his second time he has rushed to help after a national tragedy. After the devastating movie theater shooting earlier this year in Aurora, Colo., he and his team were on site to pray with victims. About 10 chaplains from the organization plan to set up camp in New Jersey and Pennsylvania this week, with more possibly on their way. They'll meet with workers from Samaritan's Purse, a disaster relief organization Franklin Graham also runs.
"Sadly, it seems that the worst fears were realized and millions of people are now hurting as a result of Hurricane Sandy. I'm not sure that there are words that can adequately describe the enormity of this massive disaster," said Jack Munday, international director of the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team, who is also being deployed to his childhood home of Cape May, N.J. "We'll do all we can in the face of this catastrophe to offer emotional and spiritual care and the hope and compassion of Jesus Christ."
With natural disasters often come prayer gatherings and faith-based charity efforts. After all, one of the best-known relief organizations, the Salvation Army, is also a Christian denomination. But in places such as New York City, where entire neighborhoods have flooded and public transit has been shuttered, so too have many churches that would normally offer a helping hand. Trinity Wall Street, a large and popular Episcopal church in downtown Manhattan that also runs a senior citizens' housing center, remained closed Tuesday. The Interchurch Center on the city's Upper West Side, where more than a dozen faith-based organizations maintain offices, has also temporarily shut its doors. World Vision, an international Christian relief organization that had kept hundreds of food and hygiene kits for storm survivors in its Bronx storage space, found its supplies flooded on Tuesday. The organization is now shipping supplies to the East Coast from Dallas.
Smaller houses of worship in less-damaged New York neighborhoods and other cities have opened to offer food and shelter to those in need. And groups such as the North American Mission Board, the missionary and aid arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, are also readying relief workers.
"We have dozens of chaplains getting ready to be deployed," said Mike Ebert, a spokesman for the missionary organization, which has set up a temporary command center in Harrisburg, Penn. "We believe first you need to meet the physical needs of people, but we also feel that in a crisis like this, there is a spiritual element, there is definitely an emotional element. These chaplains are there to council and encourage and take that faith aspect along into the disaster setting."
Ebert said the chaplains, all Southern Baptists, will assist people regardless of their religious beliefs and only offer spiritual services if victims request it. His organization has a separate group of relief workers who are being deployed based on recommendations from FEMA, the Red Cross and Salvation Army.
Munday, of the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team, said his chaplains will similarly offer help to people regardless of religious background, and do not aim to "force our beliefs" upon anyone. But he added that during difficult situations, people often question "why God would do this" and that profound "experiences of conversation aren't unusual."
For the latest on ways you can help, in person or through donations, on local and state levels, read the liveblog below.
11/14/2012 5:53 PM EST
Momofuku Hosts Benefit For Shuttered Brooklyn Restaurant
The famed Asian fusion chain is hosting a benefit to help Governor, a Dumbo-based restaurant that was shuttered due to the storm.
11/08/2012 6:05 PM EST
Help New York Cares Collect 50,000 Coats For Sandy Victims
New York Cares plans to donate 2,000 coats on Nov. 13 to Sandy victims in need and aims to collect a total of 50,000 coats. From a press release:
New or gently used coats can be sent or delivered directly to our warehouse, located at 157 West 31st Street between 6th and 7th Avenue. We will now be open this Saturday. Drop off your coats Monday through Saturday. 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Additional resources for coat collection can be found in our resource library.
11/08/2012 12:38 PM EST
Help Occupy Sandy
11/06/2012 11:14 AM EST
Donate Supplies To NYC Sandy Victims
Met Council, one of New York's largest human services agencies, is collecting much-needed supplies for Sandy victims throughout the five boroughs. From a press release:
"Drop off centers are open for item collection at 171 Lexington Avenue and 315 West 61st Street in Manhattan. A third collection will open this Wednesday, November 7th at 351 East 61st Street in Manhattan. We also have a location in Staten Island at 460 N. Brielle Avenue on the grounds of Seaview Hospital. Items that are most needed at this time include kosher food, water, toiletries, new towels, new coats, paper towels, gloves, garbage bags, and cleaning supplies. Detailed information on hands-on volunteer opportunities will be made available as soon as possible."
11/05/2012 6:53 PM EST
Architecture for Humanity
Architecture for Humanity, a nonprofit that provides design and construction efforts to disaster-stricken areas, has created a six point reconstruction plan for the storm's hard hit areas in New York and New Jersey. The organization has outlined ways to get involved.
"Right now the need is relief and recovery but very soon it will be long term reconstruction. Beyond the large scale water and wind damage we need to think about upgrading and restoring in a more sustainable and resilient manner. We want to make sure that communities are built back better and are already responding to a number of enquiries from affected areas."
11/05/2012 6:48 PM EST
Help for elderly
Schools in Park Slope are being used as shelters for the elderly.
"We are collecting money for bulk buys of supplies like underwear, socks, towels, water, ice etc. For Brooklyn shelters and evacuees -- we realized when the folks at the John Jay shelter told us that they needed 600 pairs of underpants a day that a more focused effort was needed!"
11/03/2012 7:24 PM EDT
Help for New Jersey as Nor'easter looms
The owners of New Jersey's NJ Skateshop are desperately trying to collect winter clothes for neighbors without heat and members of their community who were left homeless by Hurricane Sandy, as a Nor'easter is forecast to hit the stricken area next week.
11/03/2012 7:23 PM EDT
How Marathoners Can Help
NYRR had already secured busses for 40,000 people to be transported to Staten Island on Sunday morning. Marathon runners are a worldwide, strong-willed & spirited community always ready to do something big. So let us do something huge. Bring us to Staten Island on Sunday morning and let us help. Let us fill up the bags passed out at the expo with layers of warm clothes we were planning on tossing to the side of the bridge at the start of the marathon and any other relief items we can donate. Let us help donate, clean, assist those in need, and still be a part of the Starting Line of something big and something to be proud of. NYRR, spend the dollars you are wasting on keeping the expo open, the dollars wasted on paying additional employees to staff, MC, and do random tasks at an Expo for a race that is not happening, and use it to help those who lost their homes and businesses. Take the manpower of the volunteers working at the Expo and bring those hours out to Staten Island to put their time where is matters more.
11/02/2012 6:25 PM EDT
Help For Rockaway
UES: Rockaway Relief accepting donations at 85th & 2nd Ave at Molly Pitcher's bar. They really need hardware supplies (Hefty bags), as well as the use of a truck. They're also collecting food, clothing, toiletries, and cleaning supplies.
11/02/2012 4:45 PM EDT
Sea Gate, Brooklyn, New York: Volunteers Needed
Volunteers needed today to help with clean up and debris removal from Seagate, this was one of the hardest hit areas and needs the most help.
Please go to Abraham Residence at 38-11 Surf Ave or 39-15 Neptune Ave in Brooklyn to our low income housing site to help our seniors clean up their homes. This was the evacuation zone and they need a lot of man power to get back up and running. It is cold out so please dress warm and bring a flash light (there is no power). If possible please bring water to give out to the seniors.
Drivers and cars with gas are also needed. We need help running errands and getting supplies. If you can bring your car please do so and help our seniors get access to food, water and medication.
Please feel free to just show up anytime before 3pm and look for Dena. If you have questions you may call Dena at 917-592-2456. The service is spotty so please only call if absolutely necessary and leave a message.