NY faith community reaches out

BY HEATHER MOYER | NEW YORK | October 19, 2001

"We're feeling the crunch of more people needing food."

—Rita Marie Trucois

If the interdenominational

Riverside Church in Manhattan is a barometer of need in

New York, a storm could be brewing in the wake of the

Sept. 11 attacks.

The number of families using the church-operated food

pantry has increased from about 50 families each day to

65 over the past month. "We've extended our food

pantry's hours because of it," said Rita Marie Trucois,

director of social services at Riverside. "We're feeling

the crunch of more people needing food."

The church's thrift store has also seen an increase in

patrons, serving some 700 people in the past month.

Families that come to Riverside for help can also get

information on other social services in the community

that can help them in the aftermath of the attacks.

There's even an area set up where kids can have stories

read to them, said Trucois.

Riverside is host to almost 50 different social justice

groups. Trucois said the church activities depend on

volunteers. Fortunately more people have been willing to

help after the Sept. 11 tragedies. "If it weren't for

all the volunteers, I just don't know what we'd do,"

said Trucois. "It's really wonderful."

Religious leaders are predicting people's needs will

grow even more, especially as the economic toll from the

attacks surfaces in the coming months, and the newly

formed New York Disaster Recovery Interfaith Task Force

will play a lead role in gauging and meeting those needs.

The task force includes local activists like Trucois as

well as the heads of the New York City Council of

Churches, trained volunteers from the Church World

Service (CWS) emergency response program, leaders from

the New York Board of Rabbis, representatives from the

Muslim community, and many other denominational groups.

Rabbi Doniel Kramer of the New York Board of Rabbis gave

a summary of what his organization has been helping with

since Sept. 11. "We've been answering calls for Jewish

chaplains in hospitals, we've been there for many of the

major firms that lost many of their employees in the

towers, and we've also been there for memorial services

and other important family situations," said Kramer.

Kramer also mentioned that his group has been supplying

Jewish chaplains to "ground zero" and the other affected

areas through the American Red Cross.

The members of the task force shared their frustrations

with process of identifying, training and credentialing

clergy that have access to "ground zero" and to family

assistance centers, hospitals, and morgues. The power

was in the hands of the Red Cross, but it was revealed

this week that the City would now be taking over these


Some task force members said the process was not fair

and is based more on political connections than on the

fact that someone was clergy and was qualified to help.

"The religious community needs more say in who's allowed

to help counsel," said a priest from the Episcopal


Other attendees voiced their concern, too. "The issue

here is legitimate religious access," said another

pastor. "We need to work together so that one group

isn't there without other groups being there, too."

CWS has begun keeping a national roster of trained and

credentialed spiritual and emotional counselors from the

faith community.

The New York task force is pursuing grant money from the

Sept. 11 Fund to help continue its work helping families.

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