More than 1,300 volunteers of a New Jersey church plan to make Thanksgiving weekend about more than sitting down with family to share a holiday meal. Their main focus is to come alongside Staten Island, N.Y., residents who are still suffering from the devastation of Hurricane Sandy and help in any way they can.
Having already "mucked out" (cleaned and gutted) almost 200 homes in three tri-state area regions over the last two weeks, Liquid Church of New Jersey is now sending its army of volunteers to the hardest hit region of the Northeast. Hundreds more damaged homes will be gutted and tons of critical-need supplies, water and meals will be distributed this Thanksgiving weekend.
"When we asked who would be willing to give up their Thanksgiving and go serve we had over a thousand people volunteer to cancel their Thanksgiving plans and go out and serve in both New Jersey and Staten Island," the church's pastor, Tim Lucas, told The Christian Post Monday.
Lucas said that even though it has been more than 20 days since the storm hit, families in Staten Island still have homes with water and severe damage.
"People are still in the recovery process. We are mucking out homes – taking homes that were flooded with 4 to 8 feet of standing water on the first floor and removing all of the water-logged furniture, ripping out the carpets and flooring, taking the drywall down to the studs, taking all the electrical wiring, insulation, taking it all out because it's full of dirt, mud, sand, and debris," he said, sounding more like a construction foreman than a pastor.
After "serving on the ground" the past two weeks, Lucas said his congregation realizes that the people of Staten Island are still in shock and recovery mode. "The physical needs are acuter than originally thought."
While taking one family's water-logged couch out onto the curb for disposal, Lucas said he was deeply touched.
"It's very moving because [it's like] you are hauling their life to the curb," he explained. "We're throwing it out and they started crying and talking and you realize that was the couch they sat on for the last 30 years as a family in their living room. These are people's lives that have literally been wiped away by the storm."
Superstorm Sandy impacted almost 15 percent of the US population, but was particularly catastrophic on those residing on Staten Island. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently estimated losses at $33 billion for the state.
In New Jersey, volunteers have been helping around Long Beach Island (Jersey Shore). Both regions are about a 45-minute drive from the church's campuses in New Jersey.
Relief supplies collected by the church will be distributed to families as volunteer teams clean out houses devastated by the storm, church officials said. Hot meals will also be supplied for relief workers and members of the community. Recent inventory of contributions collected by Liquid Church include: 965 gallons of water, 1,255 cans of canned meat, 2,052 packs and tubes of baby food, and 1,900 pairs of socks. Also, more than 3,400 cans, boxes, and jars of other food items.
"We are putting the giving back in Thanksgiving," Lucas said. "We did not budget for any kind of relief effort, but people are giving money now, even using their holiday money."
The pastor said he is also impressed with the help from other churches.
"We have a church from Maryland and they have chartered a bus and they are coming up Thanksgiving morning to get their people to muck-out homes of people they've never met," he said. "That is what is most encouraging. We have been inundated with emails and phone calls by churches as far away as Oregon and the state of Washington, and even Hawaii asking how can they help.
"It has been an outpouring of compassion. I just want to thank all those churches across the nation who have reached out in a time of crisis and said let's be the church. It's a really neat thing to see Christ in the crisis."
Contributions from churches and organizations outside of New Jersey are still needed to help underwrite the large-scale relief operations being conducted. Details are available at: www.SandyThanksgiving.com. Church leaders can download multimedia materials such as video clips, bulletin inserts, slide graphics, and music to help conduct special offerings during Nov. 25 services. The coalition presently includes 22 churches and organizations.