They opened a turquoise and yellow Pampers box, but it wasn’t filled with diapers. Tracey Matthews and Lois Findley, volunteers for Zion Cathedral’s Zion Cares disaster-relief mission, unpacked women’s blouses, skirts and T-shirts.
It had been two weeks since the two women started spending their free time at the National Guard armory next to the church, on Babylon Turnpike in Freeport, helping to collect and package relief supplies to send to families affected by the hurricanes in Texas, Florida, Haiti, Jamaica, Dominica and Puerto Rico.
“I consider it a privilege to be able to do something here,” Findley said as she sorted and folded clothing. “I can’t go there. I can’t do anything medical or anything like that, but what I can do is work here to make sure they have supplies and things that they need. I’m helping our fellow countrymen who are going through some awful times.”
Last Friday, 26 pallets of boxes of clothing, water and food collected by the church were dropped off at a donation center run by Church of God in Christ Charities in Houston. Zion Cathedral is the regional resource drop-off location for New York City, Long Island, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts. The church is being allowed to use the armory as a hurricane relief center. Items can be dropped off there the day.
“We want to get the word out, with what’s been happening,” said Jonathan Howard, Zion’s visual communications director. “COGIC is known for helping people around the world. Right now we’re focused on helping the Caribbean. We have members of our church, a large body of members, from the Caribbean. We need to help.”
Howard said that the church would continue providing relief to Texans affected by Hurricane Harvey, but officials want to make sure that people in the Caribbean who were affected by Hurricanes Irma and Maria are taken care of, too. At this point, however, they are unsure when they will be able to deliver the food, clothing, water and cleaning supplies to the Caribbean.
“We’re going to get to the islands,” Matthews said, “and it’s not just for the churches. It’s for everyone.”
As a result of diesel fuel shortages and decimated infrastructure, getting relief supplies to victims in places like Puerto Rico presents hefty challenges, according to news reports. On Sept. 28, the White House authorized a 10-day waiver of the Jones Act, a federal law that limited shipping by foreign vessels to U.S. ports. Thanks to the waiver, COGIC may have a window of opportunity to make more deliveries.
Matthews’s husband, Joseph, a fellow volunteer and the logistics coordinator for Zion’s shipments, said that once he was able to find seaworthy containers or a plane that could airdrop supplies, they could be delivered to the Caribbean. He added that he and other volunteers would make sure hurricane victims get the supplies they need.