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First Paterson Members Help Irene Victims, Obama Visits Relief Site

Story by LaFayette Trawick; Photos by First Media
Published 9/7/2011


President Barack Obama visits a flood relief center in the parking lot of a Lowes store in Paterson, N.J., to meet residents and volunteers. He also talks with David L. King, pastor of the First church of Paterson and the lead director and organizer of the two-day effort.

Lifelong Paterson, N.J., residents Kathy and Greg are expecting a baby in one month. However, due to flooding from Hurricane Irene they have not been able to get to her home on Haledon Street for the past week. Recalling that when she left she had water up to her knees in her living room, Kathy said, “Our apartment was condemned this week, and we have been in a shelter, and we need all the help we can get.”

New Jersey was declared a federal disaster area after homes and businesses were flooded following Hurricane Irene. The rising Passaic River forced thousands of people from their homes and caused extensive area power outages. More than 2,000 residents had to be evacuated and more than 500 families spent the previous week in local shelters as businesses and community clinics were shuttered by the storm, this according to Ora Jane Bell, Adventist Community Services (ACS) director for the First church of Paterson and a local member of the Community Emergency Response Team.

This past Sabbath and Sunday, members of Allegheny East Conference’s (AEC) First church of Paterson showed up at the city’s Lowes store parking lot in droves to help people like Kathy and Greg. Utilizing 310 AEC volunteers, the First church of Paterson served as the local coordinating organization for providing logistics and distribution of nearly $300,000 worth of food products, personal care items and cleaning supplies to 2,340 families (representing 6,218 individuals) impacted by the storm. Over the two days, Seventh-day Adventist church members worked with Feed The Children to distribute commodities from the three trailers the organization sent up from their warehouse in Nashville, Tenn. Feed the Children is a Christian, international, nonprofit relief organization that delivers food, medicine, clothing and other necessities to individuals, children and families in need in times of famine, war, poverty or natural disaster.



The efforts even drew national attention when President Barack Obama visited the site on Sunday. The president, joined by Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, spoke with residents in the parking lot for nearly half an hour, spending most of his time listening to them talk about flood waters damaging their homes and cars.

“President Obama thanked us for giving back to the community and being there to help others in their time of need,” said David L. King, pastor of the First church of Paterson. King was the lead director and organizer of the community, faith-based initiative to quickly identify community partnerships and to set up the large disaster relief operation.

The church also worked with Meals for Kids to provide more than 1,200 hot lunches and meals to community residents and volunteers. “Once we got the call from Elder Burt-Miller from the First [Seventh-day Adventist Church] of Paterson, it only took minutes for us to say ‘yes,’” said owners Sean and Jackie Collins.
Lowes’ “Heroes” program quickly provided volunteers from other Lowes locations around the state to support the relief effort as well. In addition to their employee/volunteers, Lowes also provided the staging location, bottled water, buckets, security and the canopies to register local recovering residents. “We believe community involvement extends beyond the stores,” says Michael Bergamo, Lowes general manager for the Paterson location. “Whether it’s helping with natural disaster recovery or taking an active role in programs that make our neighborhoods better places to live, we are committed to helping our neighbors through alliances with well-respected organizations.”

Lowe’s corporate initiated the original idea to help the community by quickly mobilizing their internal resources within one week to identify a partnership with Feed The Children who then in turn contacted Minnie McNeil, Allegheny East Conference’s ACS director. McNeil then contacted Pastor King to request his assistance. She said one of the reasons these other organizations turned to Seventh-day Adventists was because, “ACS remains very well connected, relevant and committed to local communities nationwide.” 

Additional support and partnerships included the New Jersey Conference disaster relief team, along with Paterson-based Seminary Baptist Church and Redeemed Tabernacle who brought teams of volunteers of all ages to assist with the distribution of relief items. “It is great to see like faiths come together for a common mission. We are all out here trying to move the misery out of people’s lives by working together and we look forward to this continued partnership,” said Rev. Alfred Steele of Seminary Baptist.

“We are prepared to serve and feed the people both physically and spiritually. Many of our residents have nowhere to go, so we are going to do the best we can to help them,” said Dewitt Evering, First Paterson’s first elder who also served as site manager of relief operations.

Meanwhile, several residents expressed gratitude and appreciation while standing in line for as long as two hours to register and get their relief items. “I lost everything, and my three daughters are not going to be able to start school this week until I can get back on my feet,” shared Brenda.

Paterson Mayor Jeffery Jones urged patience as inspectors examined the homes. “Paterson is particularly hard hit … [There has been] tremendous devastation.”

When asked why First church of Paterson members were out doing this work on Sabbath instead of being in church, King replied that they were worshipping, because service is worship. He also noted that their motto is “mission within our borders.”

“Our community came together to lift spirits by living our faith and provide people with help and hope,” King said summarizing the two-day effort. “This is an opportunity to share the love of Jesus with the victims of this disaster. We strengthened our footprint in this community with new partnerships, and we plan to continue our efforts to heal this community long after the flooding is gone.”

Paterson members are already planning to repeat some of this past weekend’s services this coming Sabbath and Sunday.