In late October 2012, North America received an uninvited visitor. Originating in the western Caribbean Sea, she ripped through Jamaica, Cuba and the Bahamas before entering New York and New Jersey with force on October 29.
In New York City we couldn’t have predicted our visitor’s impact. The name meteorologists gave her was “Superstorm Sandy” and rightfully so.
The storm’s damage was unprecedented. Subway tunnels and bus depots were flooded, causing the Metropolitan Transit Authority to close all subways in New York City. The destruction was the worst in the system’s 108-year history. With Manhattan at a standstill, the entire lower part of the island blacked out when over 1 million residents lost all electricity. Despite chaos in the city, some of the worst damage was in New York City’s four lesser-known boroughs. In Breezy Point, Queens, 80 homes burned to the ground. In Staten Island, in the midst of destruction, 23 people were killed.
Sandy was the first major disaster to hit New York since the inception of Hillsong NYC. Suddenly, it was critical to respond to the needs of our hurting neighbors. The superstorm ravaged the homes of some, while others had lost all their belongings. In freezing temperatures many were left without heat, plumbing and electricity for days that stretched into weeks.
Our church, alongside many others, mobilized immediately to meet the need. Over the following months, many of us selflessly gave precious free hours on weekends and week nights, took vacation days, skipped auditions and rescheduled interviews to travel to the hardest hit areas and serve. We sorted food, water, clothing and other necessities to distribute to those in need. We cleaned and gutted mold-infected basements and rooms of homes that had been flooded. We cared for the elderly and infirm as hospitals and nursing homes evacuated to emergency shelters. We loaded and unloaded truckloads of donations, carrying food and buckets of water – at times up 25 flights of stairs – to reach residents on the upper levels of housing projects.
Our volunteers canvassed streets, knocking on doors to seek out those who needed extra help – the elderly, immobile, single moms and those simply afraid of stepping outside into a world where people were literally fighting for survival.
In three months, over 300 Hillsong NYC volunteers collectively contributed 2.5 working years to our relief efforts. Based on the median income in NYC, that’s $128k worth of time donated for $0 pay. In rented vans, personal cars and trucks filled with supplies, we covered the equivalent distance of New York to Alaska while driving to affected areas.
During our initial relief efforts, we saw a particular need in Far Rockaway, located on the Rockaway Peninsula in Queens (about a one-hour drive from the middle of Manhattan) and felt compelled to address it. In Rockaway, we developed close bonds with local pastors, community centers and families. At one facility, our volunteers were able to help feed, clothe and hand out blankets, diapers, toiletries and other supplies to upwards of 6,000 individuals repeatedly and consistently over several months.
Many of the supplies we distributed were donated by Hillsong NYC’s own. Through drives at church, as well as donations by other individuals, businesses and ministries, we saw an estimated $850k worth of goods donated.
• 21,941 meals served
• 2,981 blankets. If stretched out, these would cover six square miles.
• 127,752 diapers. That’s one full year of diapers for 47 babies.
• 189,000 baby wipes
• 2,004 rolls of toilet paper. Rolled out, this would stretch 6.31 miles.
• 51,287 bottles of water / electrolyte drinks. That’s enough to supply an office water cooler for 26 years.
In addition to volunteer time and goods donated, extraordinarily generous monetary donations now fund our ongoing disaster relief in the Rockaways. Stay tuned for more updates, as the rebuild continues.
Karla Keatinge & Tara Crowl