A volunteer from the Blacksburg United Methodist Church paints a home in Crisfield, MD.
By Susan Kim*
September 24, 2013—Richard Gates (not his real name) stands inside his 1910 home in Crisfield, Maryland, gazing at a new floor and freshly painted walls. He lost his wife to leukemia five years ago. Then, in October 2012, Hurricane Sandy swept eight inches of water into his home.
Gates had never seen anything like it in his life. “I've lived in this house for 40 years and no hurricane had ever come into the house,” he said. “I couldn't believe it.”
After coping for more than a week with no electricity, he began taking stock of the serious damage surrounding him. One day, he noticed a team of volunteers working on a house down the street. Through them, he found out about the United Methodist Peninsula-Delaware Disaster Response Team, administered through the Peninsula-Delaware Conference and supported with funds from the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).
Working through the disaster response team's case management process, Gates was able to form a recovery plan, which ultimately included a team of volunteers from Pennsylvania who repaired his home and, at the same time, boosted his spirit.
“I told them I wanted to say ‘thank you’—but thank you just isn't enough,” he said.
Not everyone in Crisfield—a Maryland Eastern Shore town that's home to about 3,000 people—is so far along in their recovery. Just down the road from Gates' home, a volunteer team from the Blacksburg United Methodist Church in Virginia is replacing flooring and pulling water-damaged debris from another house.
One of the volunteers, Karen Kline, said she tries to help on a disaster site at least once a year. In the fall, her church sent an Early Response Team to Crisfield to help with initial cleanup. “There are opportunities in our church to help out with immediate response and long-term recovery. I can't always drop what I'm doing so I enjoy volunteering during the long-term recovery phase,” she said.
JoAnn McKenzie, disaster case manager for the United Methodist disaster response team, said she wishes more people were aware that long-term recovery is continuing in Crisfield. “In this community, you have a little piece of land where things are still done the same way they've been done for generations.”
Especially in that setting, McKenzie said she's amazed at the difference volunteers have made. “They are an incredible, positive force. They can walk into a home, be sensitive to the homeowner, and do what needs to be done.”
Volunteer teams are scheduled to come to Crisfield through October, but slots are open in the spring, said Earl Bethards, disaster recovery coordinator for the United Methodist team. Bethards oversees construction on the damaged homes.
He said he has come to realize that each home is not only a house but an entire life story. “We had an older fellow who actually qualified for a new home, but he is in his late 80s, and all he wanted to do was repair his home and live in it happily until he dies. So we repaired his home.”
Bethards pauses and looks down the street at the quiet rows of Crisfield homes. “The thing is,” he said, “a lot of people haven't even come forward. A lot of these houses haven't even been touched yet.”
Make a difference in Crisfield and in other towns in which people are quietly, slowly recovering from Hurricane Sandy. Please give to US Disaster Response, UMCOR Advance #901670.
*Susan Kim is a journalist and a regular contributor to www.umcor.org