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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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November 2, 2012

ELCA response to Sandy will continue 'until the work is done,' says ELCA Presiding Bishop

After Sandy and related storms struck in late October, Lutheran Disaster Response immediately began efforts to help the millions affected.

In Cuba and Haiti, LDR is providing food, water and shelter amid severe flooding, mudslides and cholera outbreaks. According to Evangelical Lutheran Church in Haiti president Joseph Livenson Lauvanus, Haiti's major rivers have flooded and thousands have been forced to evacuate. "Most of the tent cities are flooded and the people have nowhere to go," he said. 

Along the U.S. Atlantic Coast, LDR is working with synods, social service agencies and other partners to meet immediate and long-term needs—especially in hard-hit areas of New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

With that aid and care has come reassurance. ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson said in an Oct. 31 video message that Lutherans will "stay until the work is done. That is the ELCA's commitment."

Metropolitan New York Synod Bishop Robert Rimbo reminded members in a pastoral letter that on the Sunday before the storm hit, "many of our churches prayed Psalm 46 [that] says in glorious words and images, 'We are not alone.' "

LDR director Michael Stadie said, "Our hearts go out to everyone impacted. The greatest need right now is for financial gifts." 

Care amid complications

Many Lutheran partners said communication difficulties, electrical outages, flooded roads, downed trees and gasoline shortages complicated early relief efforts.

Trinity Lower East Side Lutheran Parish of Manhattan saw basement flooding impact its feeding program when it was most needed. In Spinnerstown, Pa., St. John Lutheran Church's roof was severely damaged. (Reports from congregations are still coming in. Updates will be posted here and on the Lutheran Disaster Response website.)

"In New Jersey, the eastern shore areas were decimated," said Peg Bucci, senior vice president of housing and community services for Lutheran Social Ministries of New Jersey. The agency's children's home and a women's shelter in Jersey City had to be evacuated, senior housing ministries lost power, and some meals and therapy programs were discontinued, she said.

"We're looking forward to helping people get back into their homes, get food and fill out applications for FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency]," Bucci said. 

Ruth Lewis, the organization's marketing and communications director, expressed some of the frustrations: "It wasn't just people's homes that were devastated, but their homes and their livelihoods. Right now, many of the people who want to help are also without power and without food. ... We have to take this one step at a time. But if there's a silver lining, it's that people responded very well to advisories to take precautions, which saved a lot of lives and heartache."

"The triage has barely begun," said ELCA Church Council member Christine Connell, executive director for agency advancement at Lutheran Social Services of New York. "We're gearing up to help people with case management. We don't want to tell anyone, 'No,' but please check the [Lutheran Disaster Response] website to see when we will be ready for volunteers."

Added Ron Drews, LSSNY president and CEO, "We're deep in communication with both the ELCA and (the Lutheran Church–)Missouri Synod side of our pan-Lutheran ministry, using the model we used for 9/11."

At the ELCA-affiliated Lutheran Medical Center, part of Brooklyn-based Lutheran Health Care, staff "went the extra mile as caregivers" despite their own losses in the storm, said Don Stiger, an ELCA pastor and the center's senior vice president for mission and spiritual care. Staff held a Nov. 1 interfaith prayer service after a Lutheran Health Care nurse lost two children, ages 2 and 4, to drowning on Staten Island. 

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