Spontaneous Charity- Lessons from Sandy

25 Nov

Guest column, Dr. Alieta Eck, M.D.

When Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on the east coast, one photographed meeting of NJ Governor Christie and President Obama on the New Jersey shore was enough to reassure the average American that Uncle Sam and FEMA would save the day.

But we soon learned that government assistance only goes so far. The average individual grant will come to $3,625 with a maximum of $30,000. Post-disaster government aid is slow and inadequate.

In the ensuing days, surprising things began to occur. While most of us caught in the epicenter of the storm were left without power, gasoline and communication, our own needs were at the forefront. Setting up generators and helping our neighbors whose trees landed on their houses, kept our focus local. But people on the outside saw the devastation and began to converge on the areas that were hit most severely. Utility trucks from all over the country came to help repair thousands of felled power lines.

Carloads of people arrived with boots-on-the-ground assistance. Church groups showed up with shovels, buzz saws, food, clothing and readiness to do whatever needed to be done. Amish women with their bonnets and long dresses came with buckets and mops. Carpenters from Maine came to the demolished boardwalk of Ocean Grove and made the generous promise to pay the costs and rebuild it. One local church organized a “Sandy Thanksgiving,” mobilizing parishioners for a long weekend to donate a Thanksgiving dinner and their labor of love.

Groups came from Alabama and Louisiana, coming to give back to those who had helped in their time of great need from Hurricane Katrina. They remembered that the physical help is multiplied by the tremendous goodwill and the feeling that one does not have to face these tragedies alone.

The stories of kindness are heart-warming as even small gestures went a long way. Freshly baked cookies lifted the spirits of the storm victims and volunteers. Neighbors without electricity emptied their freezers and gathered in the yards of those who had outdoor grills. Supermarkets made donations of food. New friendships were forged that will last a lifetime as grandchildren will be hearing stories of the Great Storm. Church Thanksgiving offerings this year will buy the lumber needed to rebuild– none of the funds paying for “fundraising,” but all going to meet the needs directly.

There are parallels here and lessons that we can take away. Every day, more families, unaffected by a major storm, are finding themselves in their own personal disaster. They cannot pay for heating oil, or groceries or warm coats for their children. They are fearful and alone. They look at their empty prescription bottles and wonder if their cough could be something serious. Where can they turn?

Again, voluntary community should be the clear answer. Volunteering on a weekly or monthly basis, at community or church clinics and food distribution centers, kind people can listen to the stories and fine-tune the help. They can discern the difference between those who are unwilling to put forth the effort to help themselves, and those who have encountered overwhelming circumstances beyond their control. Each requires a different solution that government cannot and ought not to be expected to fulfill.

The President and Governor are only two people. They cannot possibly organize mass aid for hundreds of thousands of individuals, nor should they try. Instead, they need to “secure the blessings of liberty,” so that those who can be there in a time of crisis are unhampered and free to do so. Providing aid requires margin and those who are in a position to give must be able to care for their own families first.

The fact that 48 million Americans are already on food stamps suggests a problem of a government is too big and trying to do too much. If government would back off, there is no limit to what we could do for each other.

“If you pour out yourself among the needy and meet the needs of the oppressed, then your light will shine in the darkness like the noonday sun.” Isaiah 58:10. Our temporary loss of electricity served to demonstrate the kind of light that we really need.



Dr. Alieta Eck, MD, President of AAPS, graduated from the Rutgers College of Pharmacy in NJ and the St. Louis School of Medicine in St. Louis, MO. She studied Internal Medicine at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, NJ and has been in private practice with her husband, Dr. John Eck, MD in Piscataway, NJ since 1988. She has been involved in health care reform since residency and is convinced that the government is a poor provider of medical care. She testified before the Joint Economic Committee of the US Congress in 2004 about better ways to deliver health care in the United States. In 2003, she and her husband founded the Zarephath Health Center, a free clinic for the poor and uninsured that currently cares for 300-400 patients per month utilizing the donated services of volunteer physicians and nurses. Dr. Eck is a long time member of the Christian Medical Dental Association and in 2009 joined the board of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. In addition, she serves on the board of Christian Care Medi-Share, a faith based medical cost sharing Ministry. She is a member of Zarephath Christian Church and she and her husband have five children, one in medical school in NJ.

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