By Michelle Vecchio
Hardship has a way of bringing communities together and inspiring individuals to look beyond themselves and their own needs. Hurricane Sandy was no exception.
On the evening of Monday, October 29, heavy rains and strong winds resulting from Hurricane Sandy’s westward trajectory across New Jersey left much of Princeton, New Jersey, and all of Princeton Theological Seminary without power for several days. With classes canceled and Seminary offices and the library closed for the week, members of the Seminary joined together to serve and care for one another and their surrounding community.
Through the efforts of German Martinez, director of facilities and construction, generators were set up in the Mackay Campus Center and other Seminary housing to provide members of the community with much-appreciated electricity over the days without power. With only a quarter of its usual staff working in the initial days following the storm, Aramark, headed by Food Service Director Hussain Aziz, worked tirelessly to provide hot meals to students, staff, and faculty. With the promise of power, Internet, and free coffee, the Mackay Campus Center was flooded with students fellowshipping, studying, and keeping in touch with their loved ones.
The scene in the lobbies of the Charlotte Rachel Wilson (CRW) complex, where there also was generator power, was similar. Students, spouses, and families gathered together for food, fellowship, and service, coordinating potlucks, holding video game tournaments, and opening up their showers to their neighbors without hot water in the Witherspoon Apartments. Dawan Nuie, a senior Master of Divinity student and Witherspoon resident, lovingly characterized the nature of the community in the lobbies as “a smorgasbord of the body of Christ,” with individuals from different racial backgrounds and denominational affiliations coming together to love and care for one another.
As the initial brunt and shock of the storm began to wane, however, students and staff began to turn their attention beyond the immediate Princeton Seminary community. Chapel services led by Jan Ammon and Martin Tel included reflections on the storm and prayers for those whose lives, homes, and neighborhoods were deeply affected by it. A Reformation Day service was similarly marked by contemplative reflection and worship and was even accompanied by organ music, thanks to the efforts of junior Master of Divinity student Chris Miller, who graciously volunteered to pump the instrument by hand.
In addition to these worship services, a number of students, many of whom are active leaders and members of the Seminary’s Community Action Network (CAN), gathered together to coordinate service projects to assist with relief efforts. A few of the various student-organized service opportunities included serving dinner at a Red Cross emergency shelter located outside Atlantic City in Pleasantville, New Jersey; helping with Crisis Ministry of Trenton’s homelessness prevention efforts and food bank; and volunteering at Tent City, a tented community for homeless populations in Lakewood, New Jersey, hard hit by the storm.
CAN is continuing to coordinate and promote special relief work opportunities in addition to maintaining its regular relationships with local service agencies. These opportunities can be found on CAN’s web site. There, in addition to checking out ways to actively serve those affected by Sandy, individuals can also make financial donations to HomeFront, an organization in Mercer County, New Jersey, dedicated to providing those living on the poverty line with essential services and emergency relief. With many men and women having lost a week’s worth of wages due to the storm and in danger of falling behind on rent payments, HomeFront is working to provide financial assistance to help these individuals and their families stay in their housing. CAN has committed to raising $10,000 before Thanksgiving to assist HomeFront in its ongoing mission. All the money raised will go directly to the organization and will be matched by a generous donor.
These efforts, combined with others, such as the Student Government Association’s election day party in which students were encouraged to bring non-perishables and clothing to be donated to storm relief, or the Red Cross blood drive in which members of the PTS community were encouraged to donate blood to help the organization meet its heightened demand following the storm, demonstrate the Seminary community’s ongoing response to the storm.
Overall, students, staff, and faculty alike were overwhelmed by the solidarity and service that characterized the Seminary community during and following the storm. Whether it was students in Mackay giving the Aramark staff a standing ovation for their dedicated service or CRW deacons diligently manning grills outside the apartment complexes to help provide the community with hot meals, students gathering to pray for those battered by the storm or setting aside their studies to physically go and meet their needs, the PTS community came together in a powerful way to love and care for its neighbors.
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