From the Worldwide Faith News archives

[PCUSANEWS] Pitching-in relief

Date 3 Apr 2003 11:17:28 -0500

Note #7649 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:

Pitching-in relief
April 1, 2003

Pitching-in relief							     
		      NYC presbytery has distributed $600,000 in Sept. 11 aid

by Evan Silverstein 

LOUISVILLE - Dennis Valentin of New York City remembers vividly when the
first hijacked airliner slammed into the north tower of the World Trade
Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
The 39-year-old employee of the Marriott World Trade Center Hotel was helping
to set up a banquet room when disaster struck just before 9 a.m.
"When the first plane hit, parts of the tail and parts of the building landed
in the hotel's concourse," said Valentin, a resident of Queens, NY, and a
member of the Episcopal Church. 
Chaos ensued. People were bolting in all directions. Valentin fell and was
trampled, suffering a bruised head, a broken collarbone, a torn rotator cuff,
two dislocated discs in his neck, and nerve damage to one arm. "My left arm,
my hand were practically touching my kneecap," he said. 
He managed to get out of the high-rise hotel, only to see horror strike
"I ran maybe a quarter of a block to about a half-block away  . . . and
witnessed the second plane fly over my head and crash into the south tower of
the World Trade Center," he said. "We watched both buildings burn; suicides,
people jumping. I watched it all."
A short while later, when the south tower collapsed, it took the Marriott,
Valentin's job, and a number of hotel employees and guests with it. 
He was left partially disabled, out of a job, in need of surgery, unable to
support his wife and two daughters. He didn't know where to turn.
Until he heard about the Hub Churches Relief Program sponsored by the
Presbytery of New York City, which offers emergency grants of as much as
$4,000 to people who lost jobs or wages because of the attacks.
"It was a blessing," Valentin said. "If I didn't have their help, there was
no way we would have been able to make it."
The program helped the Valentin family pay for such necessities as food,
utilities, rent and mental-health services until lawyers were able to secure
Workman's Compensation. 

"What I loved most about it (was), when I went there we had conversations,"
he said, referring to Hub church workers. "It wasn't somewhere that I walked
in, got assistance and walked out. They really made me feel at home."
Since starting the program last April, the presbytery has distributed more
than $600,000 to about 500 Big Apple residents affected by the terrorist
attacks - people of all faiths. 
"We were totally unprepared for this disaster," said Betty Jones, a
Presbyterian elder who supervises the program as coordinator of the
presbytery's office of disaster relief. "I think this program has pushed us
all to think about: How do we not only serve the immediate needs, but how do
we leave a safety net for future disasters?"
Twelve Presbyterian churches in New York's five boroughs, staffed with
volunteers, liaisons and social workers, serve as distribution sites or
"hubs" for the aid program. One church dropped out on March 31 because it was
getting few requests for help.
The presbytery offices on Riverside Drive in Manhattan are also serving as a
hub site in the program, whose work is coordinated with that of other
organizations such as the Long Island Council of Churches, the Federal
Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and New York and New Jersey interfaith
disaster-response organizations.
The hub program, supported primarily through funds from Presbyterian Disaster
Assistance (PDA), disbursed $550,000 to 428 people in its first eight months.

Jones, a retired social worker, said the people seeking assistance were
typically people in their mid-40s who had worked in the restaurant, hotel
service or cleaning industries. 

Some had worked with Valentin at the Marriott hotel. Others were employed at
the towers shining shoes, cleaning offices or washing windows. Others worked
in building maintenance or as independent vendors, selling hotdogs or
clothing from small carts. Some worked in shops and restaurants that were
closed because of the attacks.
"I'm glad to say many of the people who we helped have since gone back to
work," Jones said.
Eighteen months after the Sept. 11 attacks, the program is still processing
about 40 new requests a week, about half as many as when the program started,
Jones said. 
Presbytery officials are now evaluating the program, which will continue at
least through the end of 2003.
Officials hope to use feedback from a survey to develop ways of addressing
clients' long-term needs - perhaps through vocational training, financial
counseling or spiritual nurture.
"We're beginning to help people look at where they've come since 9/11, and
what they need to know, and how we can help them so that they have stability
in their lives," Jones said. 
Luberta Mays, a Presbyterian elder who serves as chair of the Hub Church
Committee, said she believes the program has saved lives.
"The program was definitely, definitely a success," said Mays, a member at
St. Albans Presbyterian, a hub church in Queens. "Speaking just in terms of
the number of people we were able to give some assistance to, it was
definitely a success."

Mays said her committee designed the questionnaire.
"We want to know how the liaisons felt (about) ... how they did their job, or
how well they did it or did not do it," she said. "And of course, we want to
know from the families whether they felt that they received help from us."
Jones acknowledges there have been some complaints, particularly in the
program's early days. "As with every new project, there's a difficulty in
getting all your engines running smoothly," she said.
Jones said the complaints had to do with the frustrations of long delays, too
much paperwork and too little staff.
The program has been supported with part of $1.4 million the presbytery
received from PDA in the wake of Sept. 11, as well as $261,000 in donations
from PC(USA) congregations, presbyteries and individuals.
So far, PDA has distributed nearly $3.4 million in Sept. 11-related relief,
with almost half going to New York City Presbytery. Overall, PDA has received
$5.2 million in contributions from Presbyterians. 
"Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is thankful for the generosity of
Presbyterians across the country," said Stan Hankins, PDA's associate for
U.S. Disaster Response.
The Hub Churches Relief Program even helped at least one ordained
Presbyterian minister - the Rev. Andrew Aboagye, a native of Ghana, West
Africa, who serves as pastor of 85-member Presbyterian Church of Ghana
Mission USA in the Bronx.
"It is obedience to the command of the Lord to provide for people who are in
need," Aboagye said of the program.
Aboagye is a tent-maker pastor, meaning that he derives all or part of his
income from other employment. The divorced father of three received $3,712 in
Hub assistance after the parking garage he helped manage closed after the
terrorist attacks.
He now also works as a gas station attendant in New Jersey.
Aboagye started his congregation, which is affiliated with the Presbyterian
Church of Ghana, about four years ago, after worshiping for nearly a decade
at PC(USA)-related New Providence Presbyterian Church in New Providence, NJ.
The hub program helped him with utility expenses and car payments and
referred him to FEMA, which helped him pay his mortgage.
He said the program saved his life. "Financially, it helped me," he said. "It
also gave me a forum to be able to identify with others who had suffered a
similar fate. Whenever we met, we were able to encourage one another. It was
kind of like a fellowship."

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