I got what I can only describe as an early Christmas present this week: The gift of hope and brotherhood shining like a beacon amid the insanity of a million crazy, stressful bits of life — not the least of which has been the weather-driven destruction we’ve seen here in the Northeast.
Moved by the plight of his friends, former neighbors and colleagues, a parishioner of our church, The Church of the Archangels, who recently moved to Stamford from Toms River, NJ, issued a plea for help — warm clothes, food, toiletries, cleaning supplies to help the many thousands of Jersey Shore residents who no longer have these things or homes in which to store them.
Our parish partnered with two other area Orthodox Churches and the word went out to church members and their various networks to help these Hurricane Sandy victims. To be sure, ours was one of many such efforts taking place in houses of worship and other places throughout the area.
All I can say is WOW. The outpouring of generosity was awe-inspiring. Customers at my Jazzercise center, my neighbors, a local Girl Scout troop and others lent a hand, and that effort was duplicated over and over again all around Southwestern Connecticut as our church members reached out to their own networks of friends and colleagues.
Many of us spent two evenings this week sorting and packaging the goods. Two well-stuffed UHauls and a van are on their way down the Shore as I type this.
This was the scene in our church hall Thursday night, when we packed up 200+ boxes of necessities:
We packed up at least as much again last night.
Many of the donated items will go to families in Seaside Heights, a place we’ve vacationed these past couple of summers.
Here was Catherine two summers ago, as Hurricane Irene was stirring up the ocean.
And this view, taken our last morning in New Jersey this past summer, exists only in pictures now.
I know none of us will forget the pictures of destruction we’ve seen on the news, the faces of the people whose lives will never be the same, the homes like toys strewn in the streets, the sand piled like snow drifts, the bits of the boardwalk crumbling and destroyed.
However, I also won’t forget stepping into the church hall to find supplies piled sky-high.
Or the long lines of folks sorting and folding clothes, taping boxes, sorting toiletries.
The teenagers so fully engaged in helping that they didn’t text a friend the whole time.
Or the 6-year-old little fella who made trip after trip last night to help unload a truckload of donations, carrying as much as his little hands could manage each time, then taking on every other task assigned to him.
I know in the scheme of things, our donations are but a drop in the bucket for the folks whose lives have been turned upside down.
Still, I hope they bring some measure of comfort and hope, and that the goodwill we generated in a church in Stamford makes its way to each and every one of them.