Grateful storm survivor tells donors:
'Thank you for being epic'

Story and photos by Laura Reinhardt

Celeste Grimes remembers walking with her children through Far Rockaway, her neighborhood in Queens, New York, the morning after Superstorm Sandy blasted through the Jersey Shore.

Celeste Grimes holds a hygiene kit she received through World Vision after Superstorm Sandy struck.


When it arrived Oct. 29, it carried 80 mph winds and an unrelenting sea surge. At least 285 people were killed along the storm's path in seven countries. The National Hurricane Center reported that the storm resulted in an estimated $75 billion in property damages—a cost exceeded only by Hurricane Katrina.

"We were crying the whole time," Celeste says six months later, recalling that morning walk. Their once-familiar neighborhood had been horribly ruined. They passed one of the local schools and viewed mounds of seaweed inside. They saw overturned cars, garbage bins blown sideway against houses.

"We've seen people in the streets crying, misplaced, and displaced," she says. "The sand was on the street—literally, the beach was on the street."

Celeste lives in a housing project in Far Rockaway with her husband and three of their children. They decided to wait out Superstorm Sandy, watching from their eleventh-floor apartment as the waters rose rapidly.

Far Rockaway is a peninsula in the borough of Queens. On one side is Jamaica Bay; on the other, the Atlantic Ocean. Celeste says that Sandy brought the two bodies of water together, meeting in the middle at Far Rockaway.

As Sandy approached, high winds rattled the family's windows and threatened to suck them out. At 7:45 p.m., the lights went out so the family decided to go to bed. The next day they saw the aftermath of the powerful storm, damage they'd never seen on such a scale before.

Family food kits and hygiene kits were distributed at Full Gospel Tabernacle in Far Rockaway, New York.


No Stores, No Power, No Water

The family and most of Far Rockaway lived without power and hot water for a week. They lost all the food they had in the freezer and refrigerator.

The city opened up fire hydrants so that residents could gather water to flush their toilets until indoor water was restored. Celeste and her family carried the water up 11 flights of stairs.

Superstorm Sandy destroyed almost all of the stores in Far Rockaway. The closest store was in Jamaica, Queens, nearly 20 miles round trip from Celeste's home. In the days following the storm, Celeste says most people were in survival mode and the basics seemed like luxuries.

"We thought we were forgotten for a while," she remembers.

Then her church, Full Gospel Tabernacle, opened its doors to provide for the community. Pastor Vega says that World Vision was one of the first organizations to arrive to help in Far Rockaway.

"I would say things were unusual," Celeste says. "What we felt like was, 'Wow, where do we go from here?' Your thought patterns were off."

She remembers thinking, "Does anyone know we're here? Can we expect anyone to help us?"

A Beacon of Hope for Far Rockaway

Hygiene kits hold soap, shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, a toothbrush, comb, and other personal items.

When the Full Gospel Tabernacle opened its doors with supplies, it was a godsend for her and many other families in the area.

"I don't know if people realize how important the local churches are," Celeste says. "Without the church, we wouldn't have made it."

World Vision provided relief supplies to Full Gospel Tabernacle, including hygiene kits, cleaning supplies, and family food kits. The organization continues to assist by offering building materials to help the badly damaged church recover. Those supplies also will go to families as they begin the rebuilding process.

In the days following the storm, Celeste and her family received some of the hygiene kits—filled with items such as soap, a toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, and conditioner.

"First of all, it's like a little care package," she says. "You guys know basically what we need."

A Big Thank You for World Vision's Donors

Celeste straightens up when she speaks about World Vision's donors. "I want to thank them from the bottom of my heart," she says.

Even something as small as deodorant, toothpaste, or shampoo means the world to those who are just trying to survive the storm's aftermath. "You need something to keep yourself together and you feel better," Celeste says. "You feel better when you have these things to help yourself out."

Pastor Vega explains that Celeste is just one of hundreds of people within her low-income housing complex, and even more from the Far Rockaway community, who were helped by World Vision's generous donors. His church served between 300 and 500 people each day in the first few weeks after Sandy.

Celeste's message to World Vision's donors: "Thank you for being epic at the time we needed you to be epic...Words cannot express the gratitude that we have."