By Justin Jones, Staff Writer
Friday, November 30, 2012 —
Before Hurricane Sandy made landfall in late September, Pfeiffer University’s Pastor of the Village Church Dana McKim didn’t hold an affection for the people of the New York, New Jersey area. Still, he went to their aid.
For two weeks, McKim was part of a group from National Disaster Medical System, a disaster relief group who comes to the aid of people in times of emergency or need.
Similarly to the way Hurricane Katrina pummelled the Gulf Coast, displacing people from their homes, Hurricane Sandy took its shots at the East Coast.
McKim worked with his group from North Carolina, mixed in with disaster medical assistance teams (DMATS) from Ameri-corps, American Red Cross and New York volunteers primarily in the Brooklyn area, housed by Brooklyn Technical High School, a state of the art school that specializes in math and science.
Once Hurricane Sandy made landfall, math and science were pushed away, and the school was converted to a special needs shelter for vulnerable populations such as mentally disabled, nursing home patients, displaced senior adults and the homeless.
At its peak, their unit was caring for more than 400, and by the time they were leaving the number had shrunk to 220. Those people would be moved to a smaller shelter, Brooklyn Technical High School which re-opened during the final two days of their work.
While McKim said that their relief location wasn’t hit as hard as other areas, he saw the devastation first hand when the ambulances dropped off more patients.
“When they would open the back of the ambulances, to pull the patients off, there was sand in the back of the ambulances. There was sand in the patient’s bed. There was sand everywhere,” McKim said.
“Those that were doing the hands-on transport and rescue were having to wade through sand to get to them.”
Each volunteer had their reason for helping strangers, the sick and elderly or homeless. And for McKim, who has served as a part of multiple disaster relief efforts, it’s been his calling.
“I enjoy the work. I like the idea that something that I can do, something that I can offer may help alleviate someone else’s suffering, even if for a short time,” he said.
“I believe that Christ calls us to that. We are to minister to the least, the last and the lost, regardless of who they are and where they are.”
The shelter at Brooklyn Technical High School was to serve three basic jobs. They would assess medical needs of patients and those that may need more advance treatment at a nearby hospital. They would also provide the daily care for those with ongoing medical needs, such as the elderly, along with emergency care for any situations that came about on the grounds.
As a unique part of that group, McKim was tasked with being a support to the supporters, helping the volunteers who were trying to help others.
“Simply means we want to protect heart, minds and souls of responders. I want to be sure that they’re cared for, that they’re in good shape, that they know how to process their experience and that when we come home from something like this, there’s several of us that will check up on them and make sure everyone is doing alright.”
McKim knows that it’s typical for groups to cite natural disasters as punishment to an area for their actions, as was common place for 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. He doesn’t see it that way though, not after what he witnessed.
“So many people are quick to judge and condemn, God sent this storm for, you fill in the blank,” he said.
“I’m not of the belief God inflicts disaster on people for punishment. I don’t see it, it’s not my understanding of God.”
For those two weeks, McKim and the others saw acts of selflessness. The kind that makes the volunteers feel like they do more. McKim was inside a small store and watched as one woman walked around, grabbing some food before going to check-out. While many places were shut down, leaving this lady with few options to shop, the man refused to make her situation worse.
“He put her food in the bag, handed her the bag. Pushed her money across the counter and told her that her money was no good in his store,” he said.
It was stories such as that one and others that McKim shared that elevated his view of the people.
“These were very broken people we were dealing with, but they ministered to us as much as if not more than we ministered to them.
Because our presence meant so much and they were so thankful and so grateful for what little we could provide,” he said.
“And it is deeply moving to have that experience, and to see how grateful, how thankful people who have so little to begin with are.”
New York, New Jersey and the other states will recover and some may even forget how Sandy briefly changed their way of life. Not McKim, he can’t.
“It is deeply moving to have that experience, and to see how grateful, how thankful people who have so little to begin with are.”
He didn’t think anything special of the people before. That might be different now.
“As you can imagine for someone who’s never been to New York, the impressions I’ve been left with have been less than favorable,” he said of the area.
“But, I met some of the nicest people I’ve ever seen. Some of the hardest working volunteers I’ve ever met were from Brooklyn, New York. I saw phenomenal things take place.”