July 24, 2013

CWS Grants, Training, Mentoring Help Sandy Recovery

Home damaged by Superstorm Sandy in WV
Home damaged (roof caved in) by Superstorm Sandy in West Virginia. Photo: Harry Drake

It has been nearly nine months since Superstorm Sandy roared up the East Coast, but for thousands who are still struggling to recover, it might as well have been yesterday.  Many are still living in temporary quarters, others at home but in unhealthy conditions.  

Extending hope and help are community-based long-term recovery groups undergirded by Church World Service grants, training and mentoring.

“Numerous homes need to be gutted, mold removed and homes and lives repaired,” said Janet Sharma, who chairs the Bergen County (N.J.) Long-Term Recovery Committee.  “Many homes sit on concrete slabs, so the tidal waters impacted the immediate living areas of the victims.  In homes with basements, the heating, electrical and plumbing systems were damaged or destroyed.”

That group has more than 500 active cases, and has provided direct assistance to 100 so far.  CWS recently approved a $5,000 long-term recovery grant to the Bergen County Long-Term Recovery Committee, along with $5,000 grants to similar groups in Ocean, Cape May and Cumberland counties in New Jersey.

These undesignated grants help long-term recovery groups cover essential administrative costs that funds designated for direct assistance will not.

Long-term recovery groups bring together faith-based and other local community partners.  They identify disaster survivors most in need of assistance and whose own resources have been depleted and help them pull together public and private resources to recover.  They coordinate fundraising, volunteer deployment and management of in-kind donations such as construction materials.  And they extend emotional and spiritual care to people putting their lives back together after great loss.

Earlier this year, CWS “Recovery Tools and Training” workshops prepared more than 900 people in New York and New Jersey to engage in long-term recovery.  CWS emergency response specialists Joann Hale and Susanne Gilmore made follow-up visits in June, including to the storm-battered Ironbound District of Newark, N.J.  

CWS and its national and regional denominational partners are helping enlist the Ironbound’s faith community for the long-term recovery group that is forming there, and CWS is planning additional in-person trainings and webinars for New Jersey for late summer and fall. 

July 29-August 2, Hale will make visit Sandy-affected areas of Connecticut, including Milford, Norwalk and Bridgeport.  She and Florence Coppola, United Church of Christ Executive for National Disaster Ministries, will meet with long-term recovery leaders in those communities, with UCC denominational leaders and with Connecticut Rises, a statewide long-term recovery group.  FEMA Voluntary Agency Liaison John Stewart estimated “conservatively” that 400 to 600 Connecticut households still need long-term recovery help.

The West Virginia Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster has also been approved for a $5,000 grant from CWS, and a CWS “Recovery Tools and Training” workshop is being planned in that state. 

West Virginia has been hit with a series of disasters in recent months.  Wet snow caused by Superstorm Sandy caused significant damage, including many collapsed roofs.  Subsequently Derechos – a particularly ferocious type of windstorm – caused further damage, as did flooding during the past month that affected 206 homes in Roane County and about 140 in Kanawha County.

Jenny Gannaway, who chairs the West Virginia VOAD, said, “West Virginia had 11 destroyed homes and over 100 homes received major damage, such as collapsed roofs from heavy wet snow caused by Hurricane Sandy.  Between 70 and 80 homes are still being repaired or need repair.  We still have people living in outbuildings, and we are still finding families that have fallen through the cracks.”