Joyful hearts

On Sunday, Dec. 16, my little guy, mother, best friend and I made our way down the dirt filled streets of Rockaway Beach. As we passed houses still sitting in water (the shoreline forever changed), metal fences that had been twisted and turned with the force of the water, sand and grime everywhere you turned, my heart hurt for the community.  The insides spilling out of each house you passed; there were stoves, insulation, piping, all having to be ripped out of these homes. They were all destroyed. One door had a spray painted message on it that said it all, “Sandy Sucks.”

We passed boat yards where the boats had been tossed as easily as toys, there was trash literally everywhere, and there is no way to clean all of that up.  It looked like a war zone that had been deserted; the streets of Rockaway beach as silent as a ghost town.

We arrived at our destination, a warehouse (by NY standards) the size of a garage here in Chester. Urban Impact ministers to the community through this tiny space. It feeds, clothes and offers hope to all of those who come. We pulled onto the street and there was the huge 53-foot Abilene tractor-trailer waiting to be unloaded.  

We anxiously opened the doors, hoping that things hadn’t shifted too much and that all was as it should be. By Friday, Dec. 14, the tractor-trailer had been filled. As the doors opened, we all breathed a sigh of relief everything was in its rightful place. My little guy hopped up into the trailer and started unloading. With seven of us unloading, the Urban Impact donations were off the truck and in the warehouse in fifteen minutes.

The truck then headed off to Brooklyn to drop the remaining items (each ministry had an entire side of the truck filled with donations).  The warehouse then began a massive transformation. We sorted, wrapped, and decorated that warehouse and three hours and hundreds of toys later were ready for the neighborhood to come join us for a holiday party.  With the help of silver insulated blankets covering the walls, lights strung on the ceiling, silver ornaments and red balloons hanging from the ceiling and strategically placed black curtains we had ourselves a very festive party.

At 2 p.m. the doors opened and the first families came in. A group of teachers from Manhattan had volunteered their time and had a crafts table for the children while the parents anxiously waited to be let behind the curtain. Behind the curtain was a plethora of toys and each parent went through and filled a bag with toys for their children’s Christmas.

I can’t even describe how wonderful it was to help these parents pick and choose the perfect gifts for their children. Everything they had been through was clearly written on their faces, yet they are hopeful. With every hug and every Merry Christmas that was given and received, you could feel hope filling the air.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there was some drama. People were fighting in the long line outside, but that was resolved. There were some who said they had more children than they did, but Larry Holcomb, the director of Urban Impact, worked his charm and kept everyone happy and calm throughout. As each parent left our little, tiny (and I mean tiny) area where we had the toys, they each stopped and grabbed a stuffed animal for each child and also received a gift card to the grocery store. It was amazing.

The children were extraordinary. They were all happy and excited to be at a party. They would try and sneak a glimpse behind the curtains, excitement and wonder dancing in their little eyes. They have still not gone back to school in the Rockaway’s, their school destroyed during Sandy. I think all of the children were happy to be somewhere with other children. My own little guy laughed and played with the rest of them, happy to be free of unloading trucks and wrapping gifts. He is still talking about his new friends.  Children are so resilient.

I came away from this experience with a new appreciation for everything I have in my life. The most amazing part of this trip was realizing how much I enjoyed doing this. Meeting new people, who will know doubt become lifelong friends, helping spread some hope and joy in a place filled with devastation and connecting with people who live in an entirely different way than we do here in Chester. We have to stop desensitizing ourselves, get out of our “comfort” zone. We are all human beings; we all feel fear, hope, sadness, joy and love. We need to embrace one another, no matter where we live or what circumstances we may be living with.  

As said before, I really cannot describe this trip adequately. I just want everyone to know that there were some very happy children in Queens, N.Y. on Christmas morning thanks to the generosity of Chester Baptist Church and the community of Chester. So many people donated and I appreciate each and every one of you. The experience itself was incredibly life changing and my wish is that everyone would take that leap of faith, step out of your comfort zone and make an effort to get to know and help those you deem “different” from yourself. Because when you look down deep to the core of every person, we are all the same and should learn to love and help one another.

I hope you all had a Merry Christmas and wish you a happy, peaceful and joy-filled New Year.

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