A year ago, Superstorm Sandy crashed the northeastern shores of the U.S. The storm made landfall Tuesday, Oct. 29, killing at least 181 people and causing property damages estimated at $65 billion.
Coney Island renter Mary Gainey was one of thousands whose apartment was destroyed from the hurricane. A lifelong resident of New York, Gainey, it was late in the evening when Gainey returned to her home in Coney Island and realized how bad the damage was.
For several weeks Gainey chose to live in her damaged home with no electricity and walls lined with mold until she eventually moved into temporary housing.
Now back in her home where she has lived since 2005, Gainey, a parishioner of Coney Island Gospel Assembly Church, is grateful to God for His provision.
"I really started praying and just crying out to the Lord," Gainey said. "I didn’t know what was happening and what was going to happen. 'Please Lord, save us.' And He did. God provided for me, my daughter and the church as well."
More than 180 lives were claimed due to the crushing waves of the superstorm, which also caused at least $65 billion in damage.
“It’s by God’s grace and His mercy that I kept my mind,” said Gainey. “Especially after seeing the damage done to my home. I didn’t know how to absorb all of this. I didn’t know what was happening. I had never been through this before."
It wasn’t long after the storm that Gainey was a recipient of her own church’s generosity and outreach. She received food, financial assistance and spiritual support.
On Sunday, Oct. 27, Coney Island Gospel Assembly Church commemorated the one-year anniversary where Connie SanFilippo-Hulla is the pastor. Along with a cast of volunteers, Hulla helped tens of thousands of people in their greatest time of need.
Hulla’s father, Pastor Jack S. SanFilippo, founded the church in 1957. Many years passed until the solid brick and wood church was completed. Along with the Hurricane Sandy commemoration, the church celebrated its Founder’s Day 56th anniversary.
“This is one of the greatest things that could have happened to us in this community,” said Hulla in regards to those helping. “Surrounding us with the beautiful presence of the Lord Jesus Christ and lifting up this community to a place of unity. There was real peace. It was a day we haven’t seen in a long time.”
Even though the superstorm caused thousands of dollars in damage, the church has been able to sustain its day-to-day operations with the support of donations from its members and the larger community. While little federal aid has actually reached homeowners and renters, Coney Island Gospel Assembly has distributed more than 1 million in financial assistance, supplies and food.
To help in the commemoration, Mercy Chefs, a non-profit faith-based organization committed to serving high-quality professionally prepared meals, returned to Coney Island equipped to serve more than 3,000 meals to those still battling challenges from the storm.
“We work hard to help local churches become the center of community,” said Gary LeBlanc, founder and president of Mercy Chefs. “To be able to go back six months or a year later and help them reconnect with that community we work with is a pretty awesome thing.”
Using the parking lot of Coney Island Gospel Assembly Church to prepare roughly 900 pounds of pot roast as the main entrée, LeBlanc explained that Mercy Chefs feeds both the body and the soul.
“I can feed somebody a great meal and it’s going to fill them up tonight – but they’re going to be hungry again tomorrow,” he remarked. “But Jesus comes with a message that can satisfy for eternity.”
In 2012, Mercy Chefs served over 150,000 meals following disasters in Kentucky, Virginia, Louisiana and New York. It also continued a meal service operation in Haiti after the earthquake, where chefs served an additional 100,000 meals to the very impoverished people of that nation.
While the final New York City mayoral debate between Bill de Blasio and Joe Lhota was postponed for Superstorm Sandy anniversary events, candidates didn’t miss the opportunity to leverage residents for votes. At times, alternating between a worship service and a political rally, several politicians addressed the crowd.
New York City mayoral candidate Democrat Bill de Blasio praised Coney Island Gospel Assembly for its commitment to serving the community.
"The Coney Island Gospel Assembly has been a sanctuary in every sense,” said Blasio. “Millions in aid have passed through this church."
One of the strategic partners of the event included Somebody Cares America, a global network of churches and organizations that work together to bring hope and healing to communities.
“Much of what Somebody Cares does goes unseen on the surface, as we want to raise leverage and capacity to those churches and groups who live in the community,” said Doug Stringer, president and founder of Somebody Cares America and Somebody Cares International. “The ongoing recovery and rebuilding from Superstorm Sandy has not been easy, but the people of the region are strong, resilient and courageous.”
As one speaker after another addressed the crowd, a recurring theme acknowledged that those who endured the crushing storm showed great resiliency in the days, weeks and months following Hurricane Sandy and that God, indeed, through His son Jesus, calms the storms of life.
Russ Jones is a 25-year award-winning journalist and correspondent. He is co-publisher of various Christian news sites such as ChristianPress.com, ChristianNewsService.comand a media consultant to a number of political and cause-oriented campaigns. He is also a freelance correspondent for the American Family Radio Network, a regular contributor for ReligionToday.com and various Christian TV networks. He has been a guest on such programs as the Mike Gallagher Show, the Dennis Prager Show and Sandy Rios in the Morning. Jones holds degrees from the University of Missouri-Columbia and St. Paul School of Theology. Russ is married to Jackie and together they have four children. He may be reached at [email protected] or Facebook.com/russjones.
Publication date: October 30, 2013