WOODSIDE — A church in North Carolina teamed up with a local parish to collect and distribute more than 7,000 coats in needy neighborhoods in the outer boroughs, including those devastated by Hurricane Sandy.
Earlier this month, a group of parishioners from Bethlehem Church in Gastonia, North Carolina, drove 12 hours to deliver thousands of coats to Woodside's House of Worship Church, lugging the jackets in two 24-foot tractor trailers, according to Bethlehem Pastor Dickie Spargo.
Spargo said the North Carolina community, knowing well the perils of dealing with hurricanes, felt compelled to lend a hand to their neighbors up north.
"We're kind of in a hurricane area here," Spargo said. "A lot of our folks are familiar with the damage that comes from a hurricane, understanding that when you get water damage, you lose everything."
For years, Spargo has worked with Pastor Boto Joseph of House of Worship in Woodside, a small church with about 40 parishioners. The two pastors partner on volunteer projects, including an annual "Coats for Queens" collection intended to provide warm jackets to the borough's recent immigrants, many of whom come from warmer climates and are not prepared for the cold of a New York winter.
When the superstorm struck in late October, they say that they needed to expand the event.
"This year, with Hurricane Sandy, that just kind of changed the paradigm. It was so much more than just coats for Queens," Joseph said, adding they collected about 600 coats last year.
This year, he estimates that between both churches, they gave out close to 10,000 during the first two weekends of December.
"We were just stunned by it," he said.
Spargo said his parishioners rallied to the cause, including several high school students who attend the church who organized collections at their schools.
"People really took to it," he said.
Spargo added that he hoped the effort offered some solace to the people they met during their visit.
"There were a lot of hurting folks, folks struggling just to keep the hope alive and keep their head up," Spargo said. "Sometimes knowing that people care, even if they're in another part of the country, it just lifts their spirits."
Volunteers from both churches split into groups to distribute coats in The Rockaways and Brighton Beach, as well as to communities in Queens and The Bronx where they handed out jackets last year.
Spargo, who spent his visit in blocks of The Rockaways that were destroyed by a fire, said the need there is tremendous.
"I spoke to a couple of brothers who lived in the basement of a house. They told me they lost everything, and they were out there in just a thin sweatshirt," he recalled. "There's a lot of human stories that are behind the devastation that you see."