The Road to Recovery in Far Rockaway
By Angela Ebron
From day one, Food Bank For New York City has been at the forefront of Hurricane Sandy disaster relief efforts—making deliveries during and after the storm, mobilizing thousands of volunteers, and working with our network to ensure that people have continual access to food and supplies. But to assist residents in places like Far Rockaway, where the storm’s impact has been especially brutal, we knew we’d need additional partners to help fill the gaps. By deputizing these new, in-the-trenches partners, who act on behalf of the Food Bank and serve as our eyes and ears on the ground, we’re better able to get food to the people who need it most. Fortunately, organizations like the Community Church of the Nazarene, who are in the thick of the hardest-hit communities, have enthusiastically stepped up to the plate.
The Community Church of the Nazarene was already in Sandy response mode by the time they became one of our deputized partners. “Right after the hurricane hit, our pastor, Reverend Dr. Les Mullings, rallied the congregation and staff to set up a staging area at the church,” says Steve Pennington, a volunteer administrator who helps run the church’s Sandy relief effort. Luckily, the church suffered no flooding. The power was out, but a generator was used to get their staging area up and running. “The people here were desperately in need,” says Pennington. “They had no electricity, no heat, no water, no food, and they’d suffered so much loss.” By tapping into the “church network,” as Pennington calls it, and phoning various church connections around the country, Nazarene was able to secure its first source of hot food: a food truck from a Florida church group. The truck stayed for more than a week, allowing appreciative residents to get hot meals for eight days. “People were lined up down the block,” says Pennington. “We knew the truck was only temporary, so we reached out to other organizations, including local eateries that still had power.” A neighborhood pizza place brought over hot food, as did other nearby restaurants.
Word spread about Nazarene’s relief efforts and donations of food, blankets and clothes began pouring in. The staff and volunteers continued to make calls as well, resulting in food and supplies from a variety of organizations, including Food Bank For New York City, which provided shelf-stable food, water, baby formula, cleaning products and more. Within two weeks of Hurricane Sandy, Nazarene was feeding between 2,000 and 2,500 people a day, either on-site or by providing food to take home. It had also become a one-stop-shop for Sandy relief thanks to FEMA, which officially set up shop at the church on November 8 to offer disaster assistance to Far Rockaway residents.
Today the church is receiving weekly deliveries from the Food Bank, and continues to provide food, supplies, FEMA assistance and other services to thousands of people a day. And they couldn’t do it without the help of volunteers who pack pantry bags, distribute food, sort donated products, and help serve hot meals every day from noon to 5:00 pm.
Although many areas affected by Sandy are slowly getting back to normal, Far Rockaway has a long road ahead. “There is such an incredible amount of damage here,” says Pennington. “Plus there are still pockets of Far Rockaway without power due to flood-damaged electrical systems. People are still suffering.” The church’s biggest challenge, he adds, is fulfilling the ongoing need with limited space and limited volunteers. “We’re grateful to the Food Bank and all the other organizations that have donated products, as well as to all the volunteers from our church and the community. The Community Church of Nazarene will continue its Project Sandy Hurricane Relief Effort for as long as people need us.” If you’d like to volunteer, visit www.foodbanknyc.org