photo of Larry Snyder, President of Catholic Charities USA

An Update on Hurricane Sandy: My Visit to Agencies in New York and New Jersey

I’m always amazed by the strength of the human spirit.

Having just returned from visiting Catholic Charities agencies in New York and New Jersey affected by Super Storm Sandy, I was touched by the acts of kindness and generosity I personally witnessed from staff, volunteers, and neighbors who just want to help those looking to put their lives back together.

I met a pizza shop owner in Staten Island who has been providing pizzas to families with no power or heat who need something to eat.  It’s the least he can do, he told me.  His pizza truck parked outside an agency distribution center, he becomes overwhelmed when talking about the destruction the hurricane caused, saying he plans to stay there at the site for as long as the community needs him.

I met volunteers who have been working nonstop since the Hurricane passed — staffing distribution sites, sorting through donations and organizing items so that, as one volunteer explained, people can go “Fast-in” and “Fast-out”. Adding, “Asking people if they need help is just as important as providing it to them.  Sometimes people come in, have a good cry, and then I help them get what they need.”

I met a family in New Jersey who were dropping off goods at a distribution center to donate to   the families affected.  They were some of the “lucky ones”, they explained, and while they had seen the television coverage of the aftermath, they were shocked to see just how “real” the destruction had been, having to pass through some of the impacted areas for the first time telling me, “This is a whole new experience for New Jersey.”

And I met dozens of staff at our local agencies who have been working every day since the storm first hit.  As one agency director explained, “In some ways, staff impacted by storms want to come to work to take their minds off the loss felt at home.” Many agency staff are leading disaster response efforts and conducting damage assessments, things that weren’t something they necessarily signed up for or something that falls under their job description, but it’s incredible to see so many step-up and do whatever they need to do.

They are tired, the stress level is high, but they know that they are part of a network of more than 65,000 employees, each willing to help in whatever way they can.

Some of this help comes from the donations we have received from people across the country, for CCUSA’s disaster fund. These donations go directly to support such things as:

  • Case management and emergency assistance which includes immediate health/medical needs, food and water, shelter, clothing, critical child care and transportation;
  • Cleaning and house repair assistance which includes house “muck-outs”, debris removal, utility assistance, furniture and appliance replacement, home repairs, and complete home rebuilds;
  • Emergency evacuation assistance which includes relocation, safe housing, transportation, and temporary sheltering needs; and
  • Long-term recovery needs which include “big ticket” items that often times occur when reestablishing a home, such as roof replacements, hot water heater/air conditioner/furnace replacements, and complete home rebuilds.

During my visits, I was able to present agencies with ten thousand dollar grants, a down-payment which serves as a reminder that we are committed to doing what we can to help each of these agencies recover.

As my previous experiences with such disasters as Hurricane Katrina have taught me:  Even though the storm has passed, the recovery efforts are just beginning.  Thanks to our agency network and the continued generosity of the thousands looking to help those in need, we will continue to provide support to our local agencies until all those affected have rebuilt.