Lighting the darkness
Even as a powerful nor’easter bore down on the already-battered Northeast, a band of plucky Southerners bore down, too, racing to set up a relief command center to assist some of the region’s storm-weary residents.
“The people here are very displaced, they’re cold, and their hope levels are really down,” said Bishop Brent Turnipseed, a member of His Laboring Few Ministries in Thomasville, which sent about 25 volunteer workers and a trailer full of supplies to the New York/New Jersey region this week. Turnipseed, who lives in Randleman, is in charge of the volunteer crew.
“The people here feel like no one’s really stepping up to the plate, so we’re gonna try to make a difference in all this,” he said. “We’re just a small ministry, but when we join together with other men and women of faith, there’s no limit to what we can do.”
Turnipseed and about two dozen other volunteers – some from the Triad, some from other Southern states – left Thomasville early Tuesday morning and arrived that evening in the Northeast, which was devastated by Superstorm Sandy last week.
“We’re seeing total disaster – this is one of the hardest-hit areas,” Turnipseed said by phone from Sayreville, N.J., where His Laboring Few is partnering with a local church, Faith Fellowship Ministries, to help operate a feeding center, provide first aid, and assist with other needs.
“We’re seeing high-rise after high-rise of people in distress. There’s one high-rise here with 8,000 people, and they have no power or heat, and we’ve got this blizzard coming in – it’s snowing outside right now.”
That was Wednesday afternoon, as a nor’easter was blowing into the region, bringing cold rain and winds, and ultimately dumping several inches of snow in parts of New York and New Jersey. The snow had already begun to melt by midday Thursday, but it further hampered the relief efforts.
“The big problem is that we’re in a heavily populated area, and it’s mostly a low-rent area,” Turnipseed said. “These people don’t have much money, so they didn’t have the luxury of having a full pantry of food when this storm hit them. And then their power went out. The power’s starting to come back on now, but then they’ve also got black mold and water damage to deal with.”
Thursday found Turnipseed and other crew members in the Lower Manhattan region of New York, another hard-hit area.
“It’s just staggering – there’s devastation everywhere you look,” he said.
According to Turnipseed, when it’s fully operational, the feeding center in Sayreville will provide as many as 20,000 to 30,000 meals a day.
“We’ll have one major kitchen at Faith Fellowship, and we’re gonna pump out meals to seven to 15 satellite sites,” he explained. “We’re gonna have police and military escorts, because when people get hungry, they do crazy stuff. I told them, ‘I’m not gonna put my volunteers at risk. If we’re gonna deliver these meals, we’re gonna have to have security.’ ”
If Turnipseed sounds as if he knows what he’s doing, it’s because he’s been through this before. He was part of the crew from His Laboring Few that assisted victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and he has participated in other disaster relief efforts, as well.
Turnipseed estimates His Laboring Few will be assisting in the Northeast for months to come. Some of the volunteers will return home in a week or so, but others are headed up there next week.
Meanwhile, in Thomasville, the ministry is continuing to collect food, toiletries and other supplies to send to its command center in Sayreville for distribution. A truck was to leave Thursday, but another one will be leaving soon, according to “Preacher Steve” Ervin, co-founder of His Laboring Few.
“We’re taking up blankets, coats and socks, food, toiletries – just anything you can think of that these people might need,” Ervin said.
The ministry will also accept monetary donations, which can be used to purchase supplies, as well as pay for the propane needed to operate the ministry’s portable stoves being used at the feeding site.
“We blew through $5,000 just getting everything set up,” Turnipseed said. “I’m gonna max out my credit card, and I’m just trusting God to get us through this.”
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