Paperwork partners
January 25 2002 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

Paperwork partners | Friday, Jan. 25, 2002

Friday, Jan. 25, 2002

Paperwork partners

By Tony W. Cartledge BR Editor

NEW YORK - N.C. Baptist volunteers continue to assist with disaster-related ministry projects in New York City, though some are more likely to leave with ink-stained hands than with dirt-stained clothes.

More than four months after terrorist attacks leveled the World Trade Center, thousands of people remain out of work or displaced from their homes. Yet, the rent is still due and bills need to be paid. Millions of dollars have been donated to assist persons affected by the tragedy, but distributing the funds in a fair and timely fashion has been a monumental task.

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani called on Safe Horizon, a non-profit organization that normally assists crime victims, to assist in distributing the funds. Safe Horizon then called on the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) to recruit volunteer workers who could help process the avalanche of applications for assistance.

CBF called on David and Shirley Hall of Burlington to serve as project coordinators. The Halls, members of First Baptist Church of Elon, accepted the role and have been in New York since Oct. 19.

They identify areas where local agencies need volunteer support and request CBF to enlist needed assistance. When volunteer workers arrive, the Halls provide orientation and remain on call to assist them at all hours of the day and night.

Volunteers pay their own expenses and are asked to serve for at least five days. Many have worked with Safe Horizon to assist aid applicants in navigating the system.

When Ed and Laura Ann Vick of Raleigh's First Baptist Church arrived in New York the week after Christmas, they were assigned to work in the Family Assistance Center at Pier 94, a large exhibition hall located by the Hudson River near 54th Street and 12th Avenue. There they interviewed clients to help determine what assistance they were eligible to receive. People who lost their jobs and have been unable to find work or obtain unemployment compensation can get some temporary income, while persons who were displaced from their homes can receive funds to assist with relocation, hotel bills, meals and other expenses. Applicants must re-apply periodically, usually at two-week intervals.

Volunteers record the needed information, make calls to confirm its accuracy, then present each individual's or family's case to those who actually release the funds.

The Vicks were impressed with the wide variety of people seeking assistance. Many were undocumented immigrants typically paid in cash for low-paying jobs in the Chinatown area. Many did not speak English. One man who sought assistance had worked as a translator for Japanese groups visiting Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. Another was a self-employed energy broker who had lost all of his records when the World Trade Center collapsed.

Volunteers provide crucial assistance in filling out needed forms, but that is not their most important role, according to Shirley Hall. "The greatest gift is not the paperwork, but listening to the needs and experiences of the applicants, by being really caring with that person," she said.

Applicants are often amazed that volunteers would pay their own expenses and give of their time to come and assist them, she said. Applicants and volunteers often pray together.

New York City officials closed the Family Assistance Center at Pier 94 after the first of the year, dispersing aid workers to smaller Family Assistance Centers throughout the city. The new centers are located in vacant buildings, bank lobbies and other scattered facilities. Conditions are often cramped and far less user-friendly than in the Pier 94 building, making the caring role of volunteers even more crucial.

During the Christmas season, CBF volunteers also helped out in the Salvation Army Toy Shop, distributing some 12,000 toys and working to foster an atmosphere of joy. Still others have assisted the Salvation Army at the large feeding station near "Ground Zero" and at a variety of canteens around the city.

A group of 10 volunteers from First Baptist Church in Kannapolis worked in the main feeding station Dec. 27-31. Some, like Lara Cabaniss, served food to public safety officers and others working at "the pit," while others restocked drink boxes and organized supplies. Cabaniss, who is an elementary school curriculum coordinator, distributed more than 300 handmade cards from students in Kannapolis. She said team members had meaningful conversations with aid workers. "We were so impressed that when they came through the feeding line, they thanked us for our help," she said. "We were there to honor and thank them, but they appreciated us."

Pastor Tom Cabaniss said the trip had a dual purpose. "We wanted to serve God first and share Christ's love," he said, "but it was also a way for us to serve our country and contribute in a small way to the rebuilding efforts."

The trip had a noticeable impact on the church family, Cabaniss said. Church members are now spearheading a drive to collect items still needed at the site. Working conditions are often bitterly cold, so there is an increased need for wool socks, warm gloves and lip balm, along with individually wrapped cough drops and pain medications.

About 20 percent of the New York volunteers working through CBF are from North Carolina, according to the Halls. Teams will be needed through the month of March for current projects, and afterward for other initiatives.

Prospective volunteers can obtain more information by calling the CBF Resource Center in Raleigh at (877) 856-9288 toll-free or (919) 754-8649 locally.

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1/25/2002 12:00:00 AM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments
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