“It’s pretty impressive,” the Rev. Scott Ressman said as he walked into the sanctuary of the United Church of Rockville Centre, looking around at the dozens of buckets filling the last several pews. “It also forces people to sit near the front of the church,” he added, smiling.
After Hurricane Harvey devastated areas of Texas at the end of August, Ressman said, Church World Service — a national organization formed in 1946 with a mission to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, comfort the aged and shelter the homeless — reached out to his church and others for help. The organization’s supply of clean-up buckets, filled with necessities needed in times of natural disasters and other emergencies, was running low.
The United Church established a goal to fill 20 five-gallon buckets — valued at about $75 each — with supplies such as sponges, towels, soap, laundry detergent, household cleaner, clothespins, work gloves and trash bags. Children and parents in the church’s nursery school joined other congregation members to gather the items.
“It’s been a really positive and great experience for the church,” Ressman said, “because we’re not a huge church, we’re not a big congregation, but we want to be the church in the community.”
Initially thinking that the church would take the buckets to a drop-off location, Ressman said he ultimately volunteered it to become a temporary drop-off point for Church World Service, one of just two on Long Island. Seven local Indian churches helped in the effort, he said, as members showed up at the corner of Princeton Street and Morris Avenue with 100 buckets. Other churches in the area have dropped off about 300 smaller hygiene kits, Ressman said, which include Band-Aids, toothbrushes, towels, nail clippers and combs.
“People want to do something,” he said, “especially when you feel so powerless to make any change and to help people in a substantial way.”
The church sends hygiene kits to CWS every year, according to Leigh Latimer, chairwoman of the church’s Board of Missions, but filling the buckets over the span of a few weeks brought a new collaborative effort to the congregation of roughly 60 people. After a late-September Sunday service, members completed their work.
“To see our sanctuary filled with buckets and hygiene kits has just been really heartwarming,” Latimer said. “I can’t even really put it into words how it’s made us feel. We’re really contributing in a very specific way for people who are so far away, and you feel hopeless.”
With 130 buckets occupying the pews on Oct. 5, and about 50 more — along with 200 hygiene kits — expected to arrive from St. Albans Congregational Church in Queens, that hope was renewed. A CWS truck was set to arrive on Wednesday, Ressman said, to collect the donations, CWS has already helped victims of Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria in Florida and Puerto Rico.
Ressman also noted that the church would be hiring workers from Freeport Trailer — an organization that provides an accessible, safe place for low-wage workers and immigrants to connect with contractors — to load the buckets onto the truck. “We just kind of extend the ministry from something disastrous to try to make something good out of it,” he said.
Latimer added, “It’s really inspiring to see our mission and our faith come together in such a practical, concrete way.”