Thanksgiving is more than just a holiday. It is a time to give thanks for our families, our friends, and the many other blessings bestowed upon us every day. As we gather together in the warmth and safety of our homes this Thanksgiving Day, let us keep in mind those whose lives have been literally blown away.
Mother Nature unleashed her wrath on the east coast a month ago. Hurricane Sandy devastated portions of the Caribbean, the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern United States, and Eastern Canada in late October. Sandy is estimated in early calculations to have caused damage of at least $20 billion. At least 199 people were killed along the path of the storm in seven countries.
A group of nine men, including local organizer John H McConnel, Jr., representing the First Baptist Church in Mount Carroll, have volunteered their time, materials and equipment as part of the American Baptist Men’s Disaster Relief Team. John’s son, Sean, is a volunteer, along with Joe Mitchell and Alex Szrocynski from Dekalb, IL, Chuck Johnson and Craig Luginbill from Sandwich, IL, Terry Maurizio and Clifford Ruyle from Jerseyville, IL, and John Hoenig from Edwardsville, IL.
“Chuck Johnson and I are co-captains,” McConnel explained. “We have been doing these missions together for several years. The ABM Disaster Relief org. supplies most of our equipment like chainsaws, rakes, shovels, wheelbarrels, etc. I bring my skidloader, ‘Lil Pepe,’ who is very popular and getting known across the country as one hard working burro of a skidloader!”
Last year, McConnel and Company geared up to help in Joplin, Missouri when that city was devastated by a tornado. They were also a part of the relief effort in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
ABM Disaster Relief has emergency response teams like McConnel’s across the United States, poised and ready to respond to such a situation. Upon the declaration of a federal disaster, the closest team is dispatched, as well as the ABM Disaster Relief Trailer. Generally, they are on the scene within 48 hours.
Working in cooperation with the American Red Cross, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and Church World Service, these volunteers trained in disaster relief assist with such things as clean up, minor repairs, and rebuilding.
Sandy developed from a tropical wave in the western Caribbean Sea on October 22, but early on October 29, the storm curved north-northwest and moved ashore near Atlantic City, New Jersey as a “post-tropical cyclone” with hurricane-force winds. “Superstorm Sandy” affected at least 24 states, from Florida to Maine and west to Michigan and Wisconsin, with particularly severe damage in New Jersey and New York.
McConnel’s ABM Disaster Relief team has been called to provide aid to victims of Hurricane Sandy in Red Bank, New Jersey.
“Hurricane Sandy did extensive damage along the eastern seaboard of the U.S.,” McConnel said. “New Jersey was hit particularly hard. To make matters worse, a winter storm dropped about six inches of snow the following week, and worse - brought freezing cold weather in. The situation is grim for those who need help. Electricity has only been on sporadically in the area of Red Bank, where we are being sent. Many have little or no food.”
“Our first team left Wednesday, November 14th,” McConnel said. “We will work approximately five days and then return home.”
McConnel said the Pilgrim Baptist Church in Red Bank, New Jersey is allowing the team to sleep and shower at their church. They also have found places to feed them.
“Our sincere gratitude goes to this wonderful Church. They are providing us with the ability to have comfort in the midst of trying times and dealing with the disaster in their own community. God Bless them and help us to be strong and give them and their community the spiritual uplift and clean up aid that can make a positive difference in their lives.”
McConnel said that where they will be working is near the coast. “There were about 1,300 homes before the storm - now there are about 300. We tend to focus on people who cannot help themselves as a priority, but generally will help anyone in need.”
McConnel explained that “missions are not only focused on physical clean up, but just as important, is bringing God’s Grace and love to the doorstep of these folks and to bring ‘normalcy’ back into their lives. It is very difficult emotionally to be living through a disaster in an area that looks like a war zone, so our spiritual help is really what a big part of our missions are always about. But we do a lot of cleanup also!
“All the men take time out of their lives to do these missions. They sleep on cots or air mattesses on floors in big open rooms. But, they tend to love doing these missions and have great hearts and show Christian compassion. I am always very humbled by these guys who do so much good in their lives while on mission, and actually in their ‘normal’ lives as well.”
If you would like to help, please send your check made out to American Baptist Men’s Disaster Relief to the Mt. Carroll First Baptist Church, 201 S Main St., Mt. Carroll, IL 61053 and put Hurricane Sandy in the memo. All monies go 100% to relief efforts. There are no management fees or overhead fees.
“We generally use the money to reimburse volunteers for gas, food, and also use the money to buy chainsaw blades and other parts and equipment to help us with tree and debris removal.
“Thank you for your consideration. I can tell you from experience that God blesses us daily and enriches our lives while we are doing His work helping those who cannot help themselves. It is literally a life changing experience that I will cherish for the rest of my life.”
For more information, please visit www.abmen.org, or call 800-222-3872 x2452.
“What we do for ourselves dies with us. What we do for others and the world remains and is immortal.”