POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y.—When asked about Hurricane Harvey, and the Houston Area in particular, Rev. Susan Fortunato’s infectious stream of positivity and cheerful smile ceased immediately. Her office, already an isolated, exceedingly quiet abode, fell so quiet one could hear the proverbial church mice pottering around as Rev. Fortunato called to memory her family in the Houston area. Her brother and sister-in-law reside in the suburban area around Houston, but were luckily able to weather Harvey without seeing their home flood or be damaged in any significant way.
The knowledge that those she cared about most could have been affected in the worst possible way spurred her into action to create a way to aid those afflicted by the storm.
Christ Episcopal Church on Carroll Street has recently partnered with Episcopal Relief & Development in order to send money and volunteers to parishes and communities affected by recent natural disasters. Rev. Fortunato made a point to commend the unity and compassion shown by her parishioners. Fortunato credits the shared experience of going through the difficulties of Hurricane Sandy with instilling a sense of altruism in the Poughkeepsie community. “Because we’ve all had the experience of understanding what a hurricane is like, the parish and the community are more empathetic to these people,” Fortunato said.
That shared empathy is leading to a surge in donations, both monetary and volunteer, to EP&D. Fortunato lauded the organization for delivering resources to specific parishes in need. A brief smile came to her face, as she reminisced about her own experience with EP&D after Hurricane Sandy swept through the area. “Several of our generators had lost power, and we were without power for days,” Fortunato said. “Within no time, they were on the phone with us asking what we needed.”
When Rev. Fortunato first saw those images of Houston under water, she immediately felt a very personal connection. “Having seen the pictures, knowing that my brother was in that area while all that was going on, it really hit close to home for me,” said Fortunato in a much more shaky, emotional voice. That emotional drive to help a family member in need combined with the both sympathy of a fellow natural disaster survivor and her inherently altruistic nature created someone determined to rally her community around aiding those in desperate need of help.
The Church could have stopped at Harvey and Irma relief, but they have also turned their sights on Mexico in the wake of a major earthquake striking the state of Oaxaca. According to the 2016 Census, 12% of the city of Poughkeepsie is Hispanic, with a majority coming the Oaxaca region and area. Several local business proudly bear the Oaxaca name, while the “La Guelaguetza” festival celebrates the rich traditions of Oaxaca that have migrated to Poughkeepsie. Over the past week, Oaxacan cities have been reduced to nothing short of rubble. Even though the Catholic Church has a stronger presence in Mexico than the Episcopal Church, Christ Episcopal would love to start a relief effort for Oaxaca due to the community’s strong relationship and history with that state.
In Matthew 25:35-40, Jesus commended his disciples for aiding him in his time of need, stating, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.” When his disciples questioned when he had ever been hungry or thirsty, Jesus replied, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” This message of giving to those who need it the most serves as a guiding message for Christ Episcopal. “As servants and children of God, we are called on help those in need, whomever they may be,” Fortunato said. With a strong foundation, and the means to enact progress through Episcopal Relief and Development, the Poughkeepsie area is showing how a united community can help others overcome even the most insurmountable odds.