Monday, November 26, 2012

Hurricane Sandy Relief - Coney Island

Coney Island Gospel Assembly Church in Brooklyn, NY, is one of the epicenters for the distribution of supplies and food for Hurricane Sandy Relief. When you approach the church, you'll find it's parking lot filled with pallets of supplies - bottled water, boxed clothing, boxes of pantry supplies. On the street in front of the parking lot, you'll see a makeshift medical clinic fashioned out of a shipping container and you'll see hundreds of volunteers involved in all kinds of activities in and out of the church. Since my family and I were in southern CT for Thanksgiving, my daughters and I decided to volunteer for a few short hours at Coney Island.

My long ministry internet and real life friend Jeremy Del Rio connected me with CIGA. Jeremy and his family have been involved in ministry and community development in the Lower East side for decades [they just had a 25 year ministry gala celebration earlier this year] and have a deep hand in coordinating the relief efforts after Sandy.

We served for just a few hours, not very long in the overall scheme of things. There ended up being two church groups there, just off the church property, serving hot meals to residents and relief workers [including an Americorps team], so we jumped in and did that for a while. The team we were with was a church team from Louisiana and they planned to be at Coney Island for a year and they cooked a mean ham. The other team showed up a little while later with about 40 volunteers, all kinds of supplies and 3 gas grills to cook hot dogs. There seemed to be plenty of people to help. The girls and I then decided to head out but to say hi to Pastor Connie, pastor of CIGA, before we left. She actually put us back to work in the parking lot, restacking a few pallets of pantry supplies. The supplies had been stacked too high so boxes on the bottom were busted - we instead put the broken boxes on the top. This took us about an hour or so.

If you know me pretty well or read this blog for a while, you know that I'm pretty skeptical about the impact a normal person can make in the context of disaster relief situations. Skilled professionals are utilized best while unskilled people, with the best of intentions, can just get in the way both physically and systematically. Dependency and sustainability issues can arise when the disaster evolves into community development. Teams that help in disasters need solid exit strategies so local leadership can lead. My kids asked the same kinds of questions about our time there.

We have been blessed to bless others. So if you've got some time, go serve for a short season, with someone who is local and understands the context, and take your kids with you. We also had late lunch in one of my favorite global cities.

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