David Myers-DHS Director of Faith Based & Community Initiatives works with
Joshua Dubois-Executive Director of White House Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood
Partnerships carry debris from a home affected by the recent storms and flooding.
In face of unprecedented loss, whether from natural disasters or human-caused devastation, how does the community respond? What can the faith community do?
One person who has frequently been on the scene is David L. Myers. As Director of the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the Department of Homeland Security, he often meets with faith community volunteers helping with disaster recovery efforts.
Earlier in 2012, Rev. Myers came to the Berkshires to present the keynote address to more than 100 western Massachusetts leaders at the Faith Community and Emergency Responders Forum. With his perspective of having visited numerous FEMA sites and faith-based groups engaged in providing essentials to survivors, mucking out flooded houses, clearing downed trees, rebuilding after tornadoes, Rev. Myers observed,
There’s something about disasters that put us—the church and the state—in a person-to-person mode of feeling and acting.
Thus, in face of the forces of destruction, we are able to transcend many of the differences that keep us apart during “normal” conditions.
A similar insight was offered by Meghan Spreer, a Red Cross worker deployed from Kansas to aid with Sandy relief. She comments how disparate groups that might ordinarily not have much in common were able to join in neighbors helping neighbors:
It isn’t easy. It can be a frustrating time for everyone involved, especially for the people who have lived in their communities for their entire lives, and treasure their homes and neighbors they grew up with. The Red Cross Community Partnerships Team continues to work together with local non-profits, faith based partners, like the Gospel Assembly in Coney Island, local businesses and agencies, like the Sheepshead Bay Area Improvement Group, and pop-up groups like Occupy Sandy, to coordinate and create streamlined services to increase the capacity to respond to those in need.
– Community Partnerships for New York Sandy Relief
Posted on December 3rd, 2012 by Meghan Spreer
Local residents have a closing prayer at a Faith Action Forum
in Far Rockaway at the St. Mary of the Sea Church.
Here in Western Massachusetts, many congregations and individuals responded by spontaneously reaching out to help. For example, the Hevreh congregation in Great Barrington partnered with a synagogue in Brooklyn and personally delivered supplies donated in just a few days. In another initiative, Rev. Liz Goodman accompanied a community volunteer to meet with the Southern Berkshire Clergy Association in order to encourage congregation-to-congregation material aid and moral support. Berkshire Episcopal clergy offered to pursue inquiries with the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island.
For several weeks, the media reported on community members coming together with family, friends and strangers contributing time, money and supplies as well as bringing them to the impacted areas. As one Berkshire-based volunteer summed up in a letter to The Berkshire Eagle:
On Saturday morning, the caravan of six vehicles filled with about 14 volunteers and hauling four trailers, headed to Breezy Point. As we arrived and saw the devastation that these people have suffered, I realized how appreciative I am to have the simple pleasures of everyday life. The things we take for granted were the basic necessities that these people from the Breezy Point area, and all of the other areas affected by Hurricane Sandy, no longer had.
Although Hurricane Sandy has faded from the news, the need is still great. How has your congregation, faith-based or community organization responded? How will you respond in the future?