As she drove into the Coney Island community just a few weeks after Hurricane Sandy, Tameka David from Hope for All Outreach recalls seeing cars washed up on the side of the road and tape across the front doors of homes warning people of unsafe conditions.
“To see it on the news is one thing,” Tameka said. “But when you see the devastation in person, that’s when you truly realize how hard hit people were. Some people lost everything.”
Hope for All Christian Outreach Center in East New York participated in Boxes of Love last year, but this year, the church was looking to do it a little differently in order to maximize impact. The pastor suggested reaching out to hurricane victims, believing that this time of need was when they most needed to hear about the love of Jesus.
Tameka promptly contacted an activist friend in the Coney Island neighborhood and asked if he knew of anyone who could use some help. He immediately connected her with a building located right by the water that was hit particularly hard by Hurricane Sandy. The building housed a lot of senior citizens and families with limited resources. Most of the tenants had been without heat and electricity for weeks.
“On our way down, we knew the residents were expecting us. We were told that they cried when they found out some people actually cared about them and wanted to help,” Tameka said.
When the three Hope for All staff arrived with 25 Boxes of Love, the residents immediately started crying and hugging them.
“We met as strangers, and this instantly pulled us together as friends,” Tameka said.
The group started talking to one another, and the Hope for All members shared the message of Christ with the tenants. They let them know that they cared for them, wanted to help in any way they could, and Hope for All’s Pastor Finch prayed for his new friends. Afterward, the pastor offered to send a large van on Sunday to bring them to church.
“The residents were like, ‘Really? You’re serious?” Tameka recalled. “And we assured them, ‘Yes!’”
Before Sunday, Hope for All went back with 20 more Boxes of Love. Tameka recounts stuffing everything they could find into the boxes – even more than in the first boxes. Plus, the children at their afterschool program created an extra special addition to the boxes by drawing pictures and notes on them.
When Sunday came around, a family of five – grandmother, husband, wife, and their two children – ventured north in the van provided by Hope for All.
Pastor Finch brought them up front to tell them the church loved them and would be there for them. He promised that anytime they wanted to come, the church would send a van.
The family shared how the tragedy had brought them together and asked if it was okay if they came next Sunday. And the next Sunday, the wife told Tameka how impactful the message was and that she’d like to bring more people with her. Hope for All is looking forward to growing the relationships between the church and the residents of the Coney Island building.
Amidst all of the wonderful groups and organizations that give out hot meals, Tameka believes the Boxes of Love are different.
“We allow the recipients to clearly see that Jesus is the reason behind our gesture, and we are sharing this because we are part of a family,” she explained.
She sees the Boxes of Love as an offering to others to come and be a part of the church body – knowing, loving, believing in Christ. The Boxes of Love experience has even prompted Hope for All to engage in extra outreaches throughout the year.
“When we drove away that first day, we saw people outside just staring at their uninhabitable homes. We saw a group of about 70 people like a rainbow – people of all colors – standing in line waiting to receive food, clothes, and supplies they desperately needed,” Tameka recalled, the shock still fresh in her voice.
“I am so thankful that we were able to give a little bit of hope to these people. Everyone who supported Boxes of Love, their donation gave families the best gift of all, and that is hope.”