In the marathon that has become the work of recovery following Superstorm Sandy, Church World Service’s unique place is in helping communities to help their own through fostering long-term recovery groups.
For people struggling to recover following Sandy, their local long-term recovery group offers hope and help. “It’s a place where, if you can’t afford to rebuild, you have an opportunity to get a case manager assigned to you to help you work through the process of accessing resources in and for your community,” says Community FoodBank of New Jersey‘s Cathy McCann.
CWS helps communities to start long-term recovery groups that identify survivors most in need of assistance, and helps them pull together public and private resources to get back into safe housing. CWS helps these groups learn to 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.
“Thanks to CWS, we now have 14 long-term recovery groups in New Jersey. That’s phenomenal for us,” says McCann, who also chairs New Jersey’s Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster.
New Jersey had not yet fully recovered from 2011’s Tropical Storm Irene “when Sandy came along and hit a lot of our coastal areas of New Jersey that had never been hit before,” McCann recounted. “We had a few long-term recovery groups, but mostly inland.”
In a series of intensive workshops in New Jersey and New York in January and March, CWS trained more than 900 long-term recovery group members. New groups formed in New Jersey’s Sandy-battered Ocean and Monmouth counties, and existing groups refreshed their knowledge, McCann said.
Now all the groups are at work - and holding regular conference calls with each other to share best practices and resources – for example, deploying volunteer construction crews where most needed.
“It brings a sense of peace to disaster survivors that they are not alone out there,” McCann said. They take comfort in knowing “everybody, including faith-based and other local nonprofits, are pulling together, pooling their resources to try to do the best we can for them to be sure they have a safe home to go back to, even if it’s not exactly what they had before.
“And then there are all kinds of emotional and spiritual care to help people through this difficult time. It’s slow, it is a process. We explain the process to them and help them where we can.”
Affected homeowners may receive assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Small Business Administration and state and local government agencies, as well as insurance payments. But these funds seldom cover the entire cost of major repairs, rebuilding, transitional housing and other losses.
Especially hard hit are many at-risk populations, including the under- and uninsured, people with disabilities, the elderly, immigrant populations, people of color and others. In New Jersey and New York alone, unmet needs are very roughly estimated by state and federal authorities at more than $2 billion.
“I’m feeling a lot better about where we are now than I was a couple months ago,” McCann said. “I visited Atlantic City yesterday and they have just had their first unmet needs table. They have offices set up and five case managers working with them. We’re making some progress – slow progress, but we are making progress.”