‘This Is a Miracle’: Over 20,000 Fed at Dry Dock Playground, Closing Today

IMG_3017Courtesy Abounding Grace Ministries

Restaurants and food trucks weren’t the only ones lending a hand as the East Village struggled through a days-long blackout. Churches and religious groups like Abounding Grace Ministries were out in full force.

Friday, locals lined up and around the block to receive food and supplies at Dry Dock Playground near the P.S.34 building, where the ministry normally meets. Volunteers came to Avenue D and East 10th Street after seeing requests on Twitter and Facebook, said Jeremy Del Rio, son of senior pastor Richard and a lawyer who directs 20/20 Vision for Schools.

The relief effort was sparked after a church member living on Avenue D told the senior pastor’s wife, Arlene Del Rio — who was also without power at their Seward Park apartment — that the food and water she had been sharing was running out. The Del Rios placed calls to some of the groups they had worked with during more than 30 years of outreach.

IMG_9857Courtesy Abounding Grace Industries

“The first day we made calls to organizations that already had stuff and they said, ‘We’re going to load the truck and get going,’” Ms. Del Rio said Friday. “People have come, all different denominations, religions, politicians, Housing; it’s unbelievable. Someone said this is a miracle, it absolutely is.”

The ministry worked alongside Trinity Grace Church, the National Guard, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Gleanings, and volunteers from 20 other ministries and groups.

The church is no stranger to extreme situations: its “baptism with disaster,” said Jeremy Del Rio, came during Sept. 11, when fire department chaplain Mychal Judge died at Ground Zero and Mr. Del Rio’s father was the only pastor onsite. This time around, he said, “national organizations called us, and it’s been a real privilege to help mobilize this response.”

A cargo van arrived on Tuesday night, followed the next day by five semi trucks carrying water and food.” Distribution began on Thursday. “It’s been a growing machine since,” said Mr. Del Rio.

Over 20,000 were fed at the distribution center, which was due to close today after lunch, according to Abounding Grace Ministries. But the endeavor wasn’t without its bureaucratic kinks. The ministry had wanted to distribute blankets, food, and hygiene items on school grounds where there was shelter, but the city wouldn’t allow it, said Mr. Del Rio. “We’ve been trying to get an answer for three days,” he said. “The school is okay with it, the Mayor’s Office for Emergency Management won’t let us.”

IMG_0521Courtesy Abounding Grace Ministries

Mr. Del Rio praised the Parks Department, the police, the department of Housing Preservation and Development and the National Guard for their assistance, but leveled criticism against the O.E.M. “There were many city agencies represented here, but they won’t tell us why we can’t use the more sensible place as a staging area. All that’s best of the people of New York, all helping, and the bureaucratic level doesn’t make sense.”

Nevertheless, recipients were pleased to receive help. Cynthia Bonao, who lives on the sixth floor of a building on Avenue D, picked up food for herself and a neighbor. “We thought they forgot about us. They kept saying lower Manhattan, but the Lower East Side is different,” she said. “They’re helping; I’m glad.”

Wendy Garcia had been standing in line for an hour and 45 minutes, and was still a considerable distance from the front. “I switched my jackets, it’s freezing,” she said, “We’ve hardly moved.” During the week, she had been helping a neighbor in a wheelchair and cooking for people on her floor. “My bathtub was filled with water, now it’s gone.” In need of toilet paper and dog food, and with the ice in her cooler on its last day, Friday’s replenishment was perfect timing.