Parish hit by Hurricane Sandy conducts Harvey relief to ‘pay back’

Gregory A. Shemitz | Catholic News Service
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LONG BEACH, N.Y.

The parish hall at St. Mary of the Isle Church on the South Shore of Long Island was bustling Sept. 2 as volunteers packed canned food, baby formula, flashlights, cleaning products and an assortment of other relief supplies into corrugated boxes for the victims of Hurricane Harvey.

Outside the beige brick building, the activity was equally fast-paced as other volunteers stacked and secured the boxed supplies — along with cases of bottled water, bags of pet food and other items — onto wood pallets that were loaded by forklift into the rear of a tractor-trailer. The big rig was one of five needed to transport the several tons of donated goods 1,700 miles to southeast Texas.

The massive relief operation was conducted by residents of Long Beach, a barrier island that has largely recovered after being battered by Superstorm Sandy five years ago.

"We're returning the favor," said Father Brian Barr, the pastor at St. Mary's, a parish in a tightknit community that had been on the receiving end of much-needed aid from other parts of the country following Sandy's catastrophic blow in October 2012.

"There's a logical desire to pay back," he added. "Strangers were there for us, so we're now there for them."

"In the early weeks after Sandy, the hall looked a lot like it looks today," Father Barr told Catholic News Service. "It was a triage center for supplies: water, blankets, food, clothing, tools, batteries and so on ... There was an incredible amount of action and activity."

Back then, the auditorium doubled as a worship space for Mass after one-and-a-half feet of surging water flooded the church, ruining the floor, interior walls, pews, organ and sound system. It took 10 months to repair and renovate the structure.

Tim Kramer, 50, owner of a local auto leasing and sales company, and his wife Christina, 42, a professional photographer, are spearheading the Harvey relief efforts in Long Beach.

"Everybody in Long Beach was affected by Sandy in one way or another," Tim Kramer said. "We had 28 inches of water in our basement. There was no electricity, no gas. You couldn't bathe. You had to cook on a camping stove. You couldn't do laundry. It was very tough."

Kramer felt an instant connection to the people of Houston while following news reports on Aug. 27. The images documenting Harvey's destruction compelled him to organize a local relief effort the next day. After receiving permission from Father Barr to use the parish hall as a staging area for the anticipated donations, he recruited his wife to promote the cause via social media. She also created a crowdfunding website to help finance their efforts. Kramer said a friend in the trucking business helped him secure tractor-trailers, drivers and fuel at a significant "family discount."

The response from the community was swift and overwhelming. During a five-day period, more than $1 million in relief supplies and gift cards arrived at St. Mary's Church and about 300 people showed up to organize and box the supplies that came to the parish hall from across Long Island and other parts of the state.

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