The gift of a warm shower


The gift of a warm shower
A warm shower and clean clothes mean a lot to a volunteer after a long day of work.

By Charles Austin

It was October 2012 when Hurricane Sandy brought the Jersey Shore tons of unwanted ocean water and massive damage from tides, wind and rain.

But thanks to the vision and work of Lutherans in Virginia, New Jersey and elsewhere, a “shower truck” brings welcome relief to hundreds of volunteers helping people with the long-term recovery from the devastation caused by one of the most destructive storms ever to hit the East Coast.

Lutheran Church of the Reformation in West Long Branch, N.J., is a mile from the ocean. Members and their neighbors lost homes and businesses, but the church was spared and quickly became a focal point for relief efforts. Matthew Cimorelli, pastor at Reformation, said, “We were a food pantry, a clothes closet and a place where people could come, cook meals, warm up and recharge their electronics, and get water, blankets and other aid.”

Matthew says the congregation maintains good relations with neighbors and local civil authorities and said he asked the town, “What do you need us to do?” adding “that became our mantra” for the months ahead.

Adapting to changing needs

As recovery progressed, the need for meals declined, so the congregation became host to volunteers helping people clean up and rebuild their homes. Members from Reformation had volunteered in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and understood the need. It soon became an ecumenical effort. Long Branch Covenant Church rented space in Reformation before building their own church a mile away, and as volunteers began to pour into New Jersey, both congregations arranged to house the welcome workers.

“They didn’t have a kitchen, so everyone came to our church to eat,” Matthew said. But volunteers working all day in mud and dirt needed more than a place to eat and sleep. They needed a way to clean up.

Where to find a portable shower

About 500 miles south in Virginia was an answer to their needs. Members of Virginia Lutheran Men in Mission had been working weekends for almost a year to fund and build a shower trailer in partnership with Lutheran Family Services of Virginia.

With funds from Lutheran Disaster Response – U.S., they were able to complete the construction of the shower trailer and tow it to New Jersey for use in the recovery work after Hurricane Sandy. The new shower trailer was easy to tow to where it was needed with its four shower stalls, water heater, two washers and dryers for volunteers to wash their clothes, and the ability to hook it up to local water sources.

Since its completion, the Lutheran Family Services of Virginia Disaster Shower and Laundry Unit trailer has been parked at the Long Branch Covenant Church in New Jersey where the dozens of volunteers housed there and at Reformation clean up after their day’s work.

A long-term need for volunteers and showers

Although nearly a year and a half has passed since Hurricane Sandy, it looks like the shower truck will be needed for some time, said Amy Pennenga, disaster recovery coordinator for Lutheran Social Ministries of New Jersey. There are still thousands of homes needing repair, she said, and Lutheran Disaster Response – U.S. helps connect volunteers from around the country to work with local volunteers as the rebuilding of the Jersey Shore continues. Amy estimates that the rebuilding will take at least five more years.

Surging storm waters brought destruction to large parts of the Atlantic seaboard, but volunteers engaged in the recovery work now experience the welcome waters of showers and washing machines that help refresh and encourage them in continuing God’s work of serving their neighbors — wherever they may be — and for however long it takes.

Charles Austin is a retired ELCA pastor who has served parishes in Iowa, New York and New Jersey. He has also been a reporter for The New York Times and other news organizations.

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