From the thank-yous that are pouring in, it's clear volunteers are bringing much more than hammer and nails.
By Susan Kim*
April 23, 2013—In late March, a homeowner in Massapequa, NY, worked gratefully alongside a volunteer team as they helped clean out her home, which had been inundated by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012.
This month, she came back to the United Methodist Disaster Relief Center at the Community UMC in Massapequa for a different reason, said Peggy Racine, the center's program and volunteer coordinator.
“She said that, because we sent a team of volunteers to help her, she realized that she can help others, and she wants to give back,” explained Racine.
After finding out more about the woman's time availability and preferences, Racine was able to match her with a local food pantry, where she is regularly assisting today.
These kinds of “living thank-yous” keep Racine and her crew afloat in what can be an excruciatingly slow process: long-term recovery.
House by house, person by person, recovery is moving forward, six months after Sandy changed thousands of lives forever. At the UM Disaster Relief Center, the evidence is tacked to bulletin boards.
In a thank-you letter to volunteers, the McDonald family wrote: “More than the work, it was the bonhomie, the 'we are in this with you,' the chatter, and the laughter these helpers brought that lightened our burden.”
In another, Yonit Viner wrote: “It is amazing to me how much unconditional help, support, and hope were offered to me by you and your church, people I have never met in my life.”
As the thank-yous continue to pour in, they make it clear that volunteers bring much more than a hammer and nails. They bring hope to Sandy survivors who still have trouble believing that so much destruction could find its way to them.
Yet for every person who has moved back home, relief centers are finding homeowners who haven't even opened their doors since Sandy hit.
As many gifts as volunteers bring, given the uneven pace of recovery, it's sometimes difficult to match volunteer teams with homeowners who need them. There's plenty of need, Racine explained, but the timing can be tricky.
“We want to find the right work for the right crew,” she said, “and that means getting the right job for someone on a day-to-day basis.”
In New Jersey, Bobbie Ridgely, director of the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference’s A Future with HOPE disaster-recovery program, reports the same challenge: growing the capacity for construction while scheduling volunteer teams.
Both Racine and Ridgely quickly stressed that the needs of Sandy survivors are still large in scope, and that cash donations are still needed.
But construction and repairs aren't yet moving rapidly enough to be able to place every volunteer team that calls. “We want that balance between having enough work and enough volunteers,” Ridgely said. “We're trying hard to be mindful of that.”
A Future with HOPE has been contacted by 300 to 400 volunteer teams—which equates to 3,000 – 4,000 people, she explained. “Right now we do not have the capacity to place all those people. I don't want them to be disappointed.”
Helping a person recover takes time because each person's recovery is handled through UMCOR's case management process that considers physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.
As the process moves forward, volunteer teams will continue to be needed. If you've called and can't be placed yet, don't give up, urged both Racine and Ridgely.
“It's a great thing that somebody can come from another area and volunteer, and make this whole process work. It's not just their physical labor but all the warmth and outpouring of love and support they give,” said Racine.
Keep recovery moving, house by house, person by person. Please give to Hurricanes 2012, UMCOR Advance #3021787.
*Susan Kim is a journalist and a regular contributor to www.umcor.org.