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Asking the Clergy about helping storm victims

Superstorm Sandy has turned upside down the lives of many on Long Island. There were those who were quick to lend a hand and those who still need assistance. One place they turn to is their local congregations. We asked clergy how they're helping congregants pick up the pieces.

The Rev. Dwight Lee Wolter, Congregational Church of Patchogue:

The first thing we did was "Workers Without Wheels," which is providing free bicycles to anyone who needs one. We've given away about 10, but have 100 available.

We also have some self-heating meals ready to eat, MREs. You pull off the lid and they're hot. We're also doing a soup kitchen, food pantry and clothing pantry.

Before the storm, I and other leaders in the church called all our elderly, shut-ins and those who live alone or whose health was compromised. Then, I had a good idea of who was hurting. After the storm, I visited everyone that I could, trying to put those in need with those who could help.

We're working to see that people are bouncing back. We're also looking at ways to deal with things emotionally, and music is one of the ways we're doing that. People have concrete needs, but also need moments of peace, which the concerts provide.

On Dec. 1 at 7 p.m., we're hosting a concert benefiting Long Island musicians whose homes have been damaged or destroyed. We're asking a $10 donation, but no one will be turned away.

Through the years, Long Island musicians have given their time and talent to help in so many ways: the food pantry, against puppy mills, to fight Lupus. This is our chance to give back to them. Like so many of us, they live paycheck to paycheck or hand to mouth. Many have lost their instruments, their livelihood. This is a chance for us to help them.

The Rev. Dianne Rodriguez, First Parish Church, UCC, Riverhead:

We have a congregation of elderly people. Part of what I do is to listen to what they've seen and listen to their anxiety about what is going on. Then, we devise practical ways to help them.

We're one of the churches out here that never lost power. So, we looked for ways to help others.

We immediately set up a drop-off site for those wanting to donate relief items. We offered our grange building to Maureen's Haven Homeless Outreach to shelter homeless people. We're open to anyone who has been affected by the storm.

We had congregants who lost electricity, had broken windows and no gas. Few were affected greatly by the storm, but were greatly affected emotionally. People want to feel they have a purpose, to be one body. If the foot hurts, the earlobe hurts also. So, by offering them ways to help, we are helping them to heal.

Rabbi Sam Krasner, Suburban Park Jewish Center, East Meadow:

Our synagogue is raising money, which we will donate to Ahi Ezer, an organization based in the Five Towns which helps people who are having problems. Especially in Far Rockaway, there are lots of people who sustained tremendous damages and loss. Now, Ahi Ezer is dedicated to helping people overcome issues related to Sandy.

Those of us who have power are looking around to help those who don't have power. We have congregants calling on older members to make sure they have what they need: heat, food, medicines. We had one member who made home visits, along with myself and the cantor.

We had congregants who didn't want to ask for help, so we had to reach out to them to make sure they were getting the help they needed. Some were people who were not used to being in need, uncomfortable being on the receiving end. We are a middle-class area, and they're not used to being in this situation.

We've had to deal with people's emotions as well as the concrete, practical matters. You have people who are devastated and just need someone to listen. You have to listen before you can even offer help. You may have to help someone through the realization that their house is ruined, before you help them file for a claim. You can't separate the emotional support from the practical support.


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