Disaster relief volunteers help rebuild in Queens, New York, after Hurricane Ida in 2021. Similar efforts were made after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 and are currently underway in Florida after Hurricane Ian. Lower Right Insert: Tina, Jack, and Tammy Boshart, of Waterville, N.Y., volunteering with disaster relief efforts organized by Jehovah’s Witnesses after Superstorm Sandy in 2012. PHOTO COURTESY OF JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES

Ten Years Later, Superstorm Sandy Survivors and Volunteers Still Inspired by Brotherly Love in Action

Brian and Jackie Alexander tried to steel themselves to face the damage that Hurricane Sandy had inflicted on their apartment in Brooklyn, New York. Still, nothing could have prepared them to see their possessions immersed in seven feet of filthy floodwater.

“The thing that really broke our hearts was seeing our wedding pictures floating in that dirty water,” said Brian. “It was the emptiest feeling I’ve ever had.”

These were just two of the thousands of lives upended in October 2012 when Superstorm Sandy ravaged the Eastern Seaboard, at the time becoming the second-costliest cyclone to hit the United States since 1900, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Despite being shaken by their loss, the Alexanders found comfort and strength in the outpouring of support from their spiritual family made up of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Christian organization’s U.S. branch office rallied resources through local congregations. The organization prepared its disaster response before the storm, assembling and equipping 15 regional teams to provide material, emotional and spiritual support to some 3,000 individuals in battered coastal communities.

The organized response to Sandy is standard practice for Jehovah’s Witnesses, who recently set up 800 humanitarian relief committees around the world in response to the global pandemic. Most recently, disaster relief efforts are currently underway in response to the Hurricane Ian disaster.

From pumping water out of flooded homes and sorting through salvageable belongings to reading comforting scriptures and praying with those who had suffered loss, some 26,000 Witness volunteers took part in relief efforts in the metro New York area. Deeply touched by the love they were shown, the Alexanders soon found themselves shedding more tears of gratitude than of sorrow.

“We had to tell everyone to stop giving because we had enough,” said Jackie, who recalls gifts of money, clothing, and furniture pouring in for months after the storm. “Our friends in the congregation wanted to make us feel happy and show us that we were not alone.”

The organized response to Sandy is standard practice for Jehovah’s Witnesses, who recently set up 800 humanitarian relief committees around the world in response to the global pandemic. Most recently, disaster relief efforts are currently underway in response to Hurricane Ian.

“Helping one another in times of need is a fundamental part of our ministry,” said Robert  Hendriks, U.S. spokesperson for the organization best known for its door-to-door evangelism. “Jesus said his followers would be identified by their love for one another. But love is more than just something we talk about, it moves us to take action when we see others in need. Mobilizing relief efforts during times of disasters is a tangible expression of that love.”

Love moved the Boshart family to spring into action after hearing of the devastation that Superstorm Sandy left in its wake. Jack Boshart and his two daughters, Tina and Tammy, rushed home to Waterville, New York, cutting short their family vacation in Orlando, Florida, to help with organizing relief efforts in the hardest hit areas of New York. They loaded up their trailer with equipment, fuel, and as many generators as their friends could supply.

From experience helping with disaster relief after Hurricane Andrew, they knew how draining the work could be, but helping others took priority over personal comfort. “I was thinking about love of neighbor,” said Tina.

Helping often included extending a sympathetic ear. “Sometimes it’s emotional support they need. They just went through something very traumatic, and they needed to talk about it,” said Tammy.

The Bosharts volunteered together on over a dozen relief projects organized by Jehovah’s Witnesses. “When there is an incident, you can guarantee that the organization is setting up arrangements to take care of their physical and emotional needs,” said Jack. “It strengthens our faith when we see love in action.”

Determined to show the same love they experienced, the Alexanders have expanded their volunteer ministry in the decade since Sandy. In the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, the couple leaped at the chance to distribute food boxes to families facing financial strain. “When the opportunity came to give back, Jackie and I didn’t think a second about it,” said Brian. “We’ll never forget the experience we went through and the hands that touched our lives.”

For more information about Jehovah’s Witnesses’ disaster relief efforts, visit jw.org.