More teams needed for Sandy recovery in Northeast U.S.

More teams needed for Sandy recovery in Northeast U.S.


By Linda Bloom*

United Methodist coordinators in New Jersey, New York and Maryland are beginning to schedule rebuilding teams for those whose homes were damaged by Hurricane Sandy last October.

The Rev. Tom Hazelwood, U.S. disaster response coordinator for the United Methodist Committee on Relief, said the denomination’s Sandy response “is in the process of transitioning right now” from emergency relief to long-term recovery. “The need for teams is going to continue to grow,” he said.

Bobbie Ridgely, director of the Greater New Jersey Annual (regional) Conference’s Sandy relief and recovery efforts, characterized the timing as the “very edge” of the recovery process.

“Our biggest challenge is identifying the townships that really are ready to start rebuilding,” she explained.

The New York Conference is working to hire and train case managers, construction case managers and a few other staff people, said Barbara Burnside of Ridgefield, Conn., who is  coordinating the volunteers. “We’re hoping to have all that finished by mid-March,” she said.

Minor rebuilding has begun, but, she noted, “even after we start into the recovery phase…there will still need to be cleanouts and mold cleanups.”

The relief phase, pointed out Warren Ferry, the Long Island East District disaster coordinator on Long Island, lasted 100 days and recovery is expected to be 10 times that, translating to several years. “Organizationally, we’re trying to set up for the long haul,” he said. “Given that and the size and scope of this whole job, we need to have as many (volunteers) that are able to do the job as we can get.”

In Crisfield, an economically-depressed area in Somerset County, Md., where Sandy disrupted the oyster season, some people are afraid to ask for help because their homes might be condemned, said the Rev. Rich Walton, disaster response coordinator for the Peninsula-Delaware Annual Conference.

His concern: “We don’t want anybody falling through the cracks and not being helped.”

The Rev. Greg Forrester, director of United Methodist Volunteers in Mission for the Northeastern Jurisdiction, said his office is providing referrals, but noted that the annual conferences have developed their own recovery plans and are scheduling teams.

Forrester, who has visited Sandy relief sites throughout the region, believes the work is “going as well as could be expected.”

In general, the number of teams at Northeastern disaster sites decline between October and April, often because of weather, he said, explaining that was his experience directing the recovery from Irene and Lee in upstate New York.

Funding issues also slow the process. In Broome County, New York, communities are just now in final negotiations for home buyouts 20 months after they were damaged by Irene and Lee. “There are some homes in the flood zones for Hurricane Irene that we haven’t even touched yet,” he added.

In many of the areas hit by Sandy, damage to homes was limited to first floor and crawl space. “The vast majority of the work will be in rebuilding,” Forrester said. “Hopefully, by now, most of the homes will have been gutted out.”

Even if 10 percent of the more than 250,000 homes affected by Sandy in New York and 260,000 in New Jersey fall into the category of “unmet needs” that United Methodists will assist with, “the need is going to be very, very great,” he pointed out.

UMCOR is providing case management training as well as funding and other assistance to the affected annual conferences. To date, UMCOR has raised $7.3 million for Sandy relief and recovery and donations are still needed.

Greater New Jersey

The Greater New Jersey Conference has set up a separate non-profit organization, A Future with Hope, to oversee Sandy recovery work.

In April, once houses have dried out,local communities will be ready to host volunteer teams. Twelve churches and other locations have been identified as host sites for the teams.The conference ‘s long-term recovery goal is to repair 300 to 500 homes. An estimated 15,000 to 20,000 volunteers will be needed for that effort.

In addition, about 500 families will receive extra support for recovery with the assistance of trained case managers who will help them access the resources they need. Counseling and spiritual support for survivors also will be made available.

During the first few months after Sandy, according to conference statistics, congregations and individuals have provided more than 66,000 meals to Sandy survivors, along with daytime or overnight shelter to more than 5,000 people. More than 10,000 cleaning buckets and 2,000 first aid kits were dispensed.

As of Jan. 22, volunteers organized by Greater New Jersey had spent 13,500 hours mucking out homes and about 15,000 hours on food programs for Sandy survivors. Although some local volunteer teams are still mucking out sodden homes, that need has decreased, Ridgely said.

Ridgely said volunteer teams would be deployed in Northern Monmouth County and Middlesex, including the towns of Sayerville, Union Beach, Middletown and Highland and then expand down the coastline. “We’re looking at, once we get fully ramped up, about 100 homes a year,” she said.

Greater New Jersey does not have specific guidelines regarding volunteer team members. “We would prefer to have 16 or older,” she said. “We’re not making that a hard cut, but that’s our preference. We do plan to have groups working in 6 or 7.” Larger groups would be split and likely sent to different locations, she noted.

Teams interested in volunteering for construction projects in New Jersey should email:


New York

Until now, five pastors have managed the Sandy relief sites in Massapequa, Rockville Center and Freeport on Long Island, on Staten Island and Brooklyn. “They can’t sustain that and continue to be full-time pastors, so we are looking for people to run those sites, either alongside them or instead of them,” Burnside explained.

Because of local building codes, licensing requirements and the effects of mold and other toxins on children under 16, the New York Conference has set a minimum age of 18 years for team volunteers.

“That’s going to eliminate, unfortunately, a huge group of volunteers, which includes younger teenagers,” she acknowledged. “That’s historically been a major, major part of our work force every summer.”

She hopes United Methodist volunteer teams will be patient and flexible on work assignments. “We’re accepting volunteers now,” she said. “I’ve booked people in through June.”

Through Jan. 31, 1,459 volunteers from New York and 17 other states have worked on 270 homes of New York Sandy survivors, contributing 13,320 hours of work, with 69 homes pending. Team sizes vary from 2 to 35 members. “We’ve had some large college groups come through,” she said.

“We’ve had at least one or two teams each month in each of our five sites. The average is about 6 to 12 (people),” she said. “The response has been steady.”

Many other volunteers could not be accepted because they applied as individuals. “We’ve been telling people, please form yourselves into a team.”  A volunteer form can be found on the New York Conference website.

On Long Island, “we have volunteers that are ready to start putting hammer to nail,” Ferry said. “We do have material resources that we can lay claim to. As soon as we can give them some direction, we will do that.”

But the tangle of red tape over licensing, inspections and permits may make a March startup for long-term recovery a bit optimistic, he admitted.  “Every level of government has its own requirements. We have to get our arms around that before we can even begin to rebuild.”


In Crisfield, Walton has a file folder listing 12 homes now needing assessment. Others are being mucked out or rebuilt.

“The hardest thing to deal with is the misconception of what FEMA was going to be able to do,” he said. “Everybody waited because they heard FEMA was going to come in and FEMA was taking care of everything.”

After the town was rejected as a federal disaster site, people gave up, he added, but then FEMA reversed its decision.

Walton and Ken Wermuth, from the Eastern Virginia Unit of Mennonite Disaster Service, are working together as construction managers. Eleven volunteer teams are scheduled for February. Mitchell Simpson, their case management staff member, recently was trained by UMCOR and their office is finished but needs volunteers.

Asbury United Methodist Church offers housing and meals as a thank you to the teams. “The church has been a perfect host. I couldn’t ask for a better partnership.”

Walton is in the process of preparing a Google calendar that teams can access for scheduling, but until then, they can email him at He prefers the maximum team size be 15-20 members.

Although youth groups are welcome — he’s still working out the age guidelines — he would like them to be accompanied by some skilled workers.

“I need specialties versus generalities,” Walton explained about the volunteer teams. “I need plumbers, carpenters, electricians, roofers, tradespeople who can come in.”


*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter based in New York. Follow her at or contact her at  (646) 369-3759 or