The Master of Disaster

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After braving the snow of the nor’easter (what a weird term…) I came to the Office of Emergency Management tonight to meet a legend – John Berglund (aka the Master of Disaster).

John & his wife Victoria lost power along with fellow downtowners (that’s me!) and have been staying with the hostess with the mostest Erin Esparza (Erin sits on the New York Salvation Army board with me).

Actually “sits” is not the appropriate term – more like stands, runs, propels forward. Erin is The Salvation Army’s version of Kelly Ripa. I can’t keep up with the girl.

John’s wearing glasses, a Salvation Army shirt, and wields 2 phones, a laptop, and 12 years of head knowledge dealing in disasters. Tonight he’s sitting in the middle of a pit, a war room, of various government agencies (FEMA, Transportation, Mental Health…), council members, and National Guard representatives, sorting out who does what and what goes where.

Why someone chooses to work in disasters, quite literally, is beyond me.

Except that John has a really big heart and a really amazing team working non-stop.  John, Craig, Zach, and Ian are essentially running the City’s food shelters, working with the National Guard to get everything delivered – think 257,000 meals per day, 61,000 liters of water….so yeah, a big job. They are also supporting Special Needs shelters (didn’t even know those existed) for people needing extra care & security in light of Hurricane Sandy.

The storm might have passed but John and The Salvation Army are already looking ahead.  After 9/11, the Army helped survivors for up to 5 years, referring those with emotional and spiritual needs via social ministries, conducting case management… now the Army is looking ahead to understand the immediate and long term needs for recovery to move beyond distributing food & water to helping people rebuild their lives.

My only contribution to the evening was consuming large amounts of chicken tenders, taking pictures, discussing with Erin how our big coats make us look like Michelin men, and chatting up the security guard at the Office of Emergency Management. Who asked for my phone number. Until he found out I’m 10 years older than him. And in a relationship. With Tony Blair.

I was of limited help tonight – just wanted to report on my new hero John and his team’s work. But I’ll be helping out next weekend. Because what I saw tonight is hope. Hope that people like Erin & John are diligently helping our City take care of the hurting. Hope that residents in Chelsea who received assistance from The Salvation Army are now asking Erin to volunteer and “pay it forward”. Hope that the One who gives us a “hope that does not disappoint us” (Romans 5:5) will continue to hold New York and the surrounding areas in His hands.

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