NEW YORK –– Fr. Donald Baker is really impressed by how young Catholics have really stepped up to help those affected the most by Hurricane Sandy.
“The ‘millennials,’ those young people in the neighborhood who are in their 20s — who’ve become adults since the millennium –– have been outstanding –– absolutely incredible,” said the 52-year-old pastor of St. Teresa Church in New York City’s gritty Lower East Side.
“They truly embodied the charity of Christ. I turn around and there are another dozen eager and willing to help our community,” he added.
The priest said the amount of damage done by Hurricane Sandy “was surreal.”
Right after the storm, which made landfall in neighboring New Jersey Oct. 29, “there were people trapped in cars that we had to rescue since the fire department couldn’t get down here right away,” he recalled in an interview with Catholic News Service. “It was astonishing. But it’s precisely moments like this when New Yorkers come together and work together. It’s really encouraging.”
Fr. Baker added: “The response from my parishioners has been amazing. I’m thankful at how well they stepped up to the task at hand.”
The New York Archdiocese announced Nov. 16 that it is distributing nearly $1 million raised through a special parish collection to those hardest hit by Sandy, particularly those who suffered losses on Staten Island, as well as lower Manhattan and some portions of the upper counties of the archdiocese.
Catholic Charities Sandy Relief Fund will forward the money to the pastors in the local communities, so that they can provide immediate help to about 1,000 families and individuals in need.
The hardest hit area of New York City is the borough of Staten Island. At least 43 deaths in New York were attributed to Sandy, with 23 of those in Staten Island. As it made its way through the Northeast, Sandy killed more than 100 people.
On Nov. 17, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York was to visit Staten Island for the third time since the storm. His schedule was to include a stop at a Catholic retreat house that opened its facilities for relief efforts and is housing 30 displaced families.
“It is truly inspiring to see how so many people, particularly in our parishes and communities, rose to the occasion to help others,” the cardinal said in a statement. “We know that it will take time for people to be able to put all of the pieces of their lives back together, but the church — our parishes, Catholic Charities, the Al Smith Foundation, and so many dedicated volunteers — will be there with them every step of the way.”
The Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation and the Cardinal’s Annual Appeal have each contributed an additional $500,000 to the archdiocesan relief fund.
In Manhattan, Father Baker said, most residents never expect the level of disaster that was created by Sandy. “This is Manhattan! Things like this don’t happen … but now we know what nature is capable of. There was a lot of water damage,” he told CNS. “I still remember (thinking) I couldn’t have imagined that this was possible anywhere let alone in Manhattan.”
Fr. Thomas Faiola, a Capuchin Franciscan, said that the food pantry his order runs usually serves about 35 families a day, but at its peak after the storm, it fed at least 1,000 people.
He is pastor of another Lower Eastside church, Our Lady of Sorrows.
“The first Mass after Hurricane Sandy was completely done by candlelight,” he recalled. “It was actually beautiful but it reminded everyone who came to Mass of how badly affected we were.”
On Nov. 15, President Barack Obama visited some of the most devastated areas of New York and New Jersey where many storm victims were still standing in lines for supplies, food and other assistance.
He said the federal government would be there to help “until the rebuilding is complete.”
During his tour of the devastation there, Obama said that in “difficult times like this, we’re reminded that we’re bound together and we have to look out for each other. … A lot of the things that seem important, the petty differences, melt away.”