Steve Breitfeller displays a flag and message of encouragement for his neighbors in Lindenhurst, N.Y., Nov. 6. Lindenhurst was one of the worst hit areas of Long Island when Hurricane Sandy swept through the Northeast in late October. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)
Long Island parish helps its own, reaches out to community hit by Sandy
By Mary Ellen Barrett
Catholic News Service
LINDENHURST, N.Y. - Father John Sureau stood on a chair in the gymnasium of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Lindenhurst to announce that the distribution of clothes and food would be ending at noon and opening again at 3 p.m.
He encouraged people to move quickly and jumped off the chair to shake hands with a volunteer.
Lindenhurst was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy, and the residents of the quiet Long Island village in the Rockville Centre Diocese are still reeling from the effects. “I lost everything,” an elderly lady said with a gulp, as she ran in to grab some canned food and blankets before noon.
“As soon as the storm stopped, we sat down to brainstorm how we could help the community,” said the pastor, Monsignor Joe DeGrocco. The priest has been and will continue to work closely with local officials and the fire department to get food and clothing into the hands of the people who need it, sharing information and resources as they become available.
Every evening, the parish van makes its way through the most ravaged part of town delivering food, blankets, clothes and toiletries to those in need.
Distributing food and clothing is only part of how Our Lady of Perpetual Help is ministering to its community. Parishioners and nonparishioners alike can come to the hastily set up computer cafe, equipped with eight laptops and Wi-Fi as well as electrical power strips to allow people to charge phones and devices for as long as needed.
“We were trying to think of unique things to do that would not duplicate efforts being made in other areas, the Internet is huge for people right now and being able to fill out FEMA forms or even get in touch with a friend is a comfort,” said Father Sureau, one of the parish’s parochial vicars.
FEMA is the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Brittany Evans, a parishioner since 2000 and the current youth minister, lost her home in the storm, but was manning the computer cafe and helping people stay connected. “My apartment was completely flooded,” said Evans, “but this is the first place I wanted to be. I knew the teens would be here and they have been, pitching in and helping.”
The church also has established a coffeehouse cafe for locals. The school cafeteria is opened every morning from 6 a.m. until 9 a.m. serving coffee and a light breakfast and every evening from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. serving coffee and dessert. Electrical sockets are available for charging and people are attracted to the warmth and light as well as the ability to relax and be social for a short time each day.
Father Sureau explained, “We knew that people would be having to go to work and not necessarily be around during the day so we thought if we could offer them a bit of hospitality early and later in the day it would help get them through the day and night. Especially since a lot of them are living with a lot of cold darkness right now.”
Both Monsignor DeGrocco and Father Sureau thought it was essential that they not replicate services already in place and have worked with local organizations.
The hospitality part of the parish’s outreach efforts has really touched the hearts of the volunteers and residents of Lindenhurst.
“I’m not Catholic,” said Jeanette Riddick, a local resident who came to replenish her lost food supply and stayed for coffee. “But everyone is being so nice and I am so grateful for hot coffee and a place to get warm.”
Patricia Freapane and her husband were searching for clothes and food for two of their neighbor’s children who were now staying with them. “Their home is completely gone and they have lost everything. I lost all my food and appliances and power so I can’t help much, but I can give them a roof and we can gather supplies here,” said Patricia Freapane.
The couple’s home took on 4 feet of water and she was gathering food, pants and shoes for the boys she took in as well as her own children. “I am so grateful that we can come here and warm up and get what we need to keep going for a while. It’s such a relief because we can’t afford to go buy what we lost.”
Auxiliary Bishop Robert J. Brennan of Rockville Centre celebrated an evening Mass Nov. 5 at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church. The bishop, whose episcopal ordination was in July, grew up in Lindenhurst.
“There is something so beautiful about Catholic Christians because behind every cross, there is the resurrection and we are seeing that here now,” he said.
The bishop praised the giving spirit of his community and commented on the parish’s rejection of the culture of “me.” He encouraged people to come to church for comfort both spiritually and physically.
“This is our home, because this where we are nourished, this is where we find Christ’s love and this is where we build on that love,” Bishop Brennan added. “We are much stronger than this terrible flood; we are so much stronger because it is the power of Jesus Christ that draws us together and puts us all on the road to healing.”
Barrett is a columnist for Faith magazine, the new publication of the Rockville Centre Diocese.
Copyright (c) 2012 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops