Rev. Fr. Economos Paul Pappas is presiding priest at St. Barbara Greek Orthodox Church in Toms River, New Jersey, and an IOCC Frontliner. After his parish was affected by Superstorm Sandy, Fr. Paul became interested in preparing to help with the next disaster. Fr. Paul’s most recent deployment with IOCC was to the Houston area after Hurricane Harvey.

When Superstorm Sandy came through New Jersey in 2012, the area of Toms River was affected; at least 20 of my parishioners lost their homes in the disaster. The area surrounding the church was also affected, and many neighbors came to the church seeking aid—which we were not equipped to provide.

IOCC was able to organize, within several days, a team of volunteers to help. They were responsible for getting hundreds of the clean-up buckets here to the church, offering moral support to those who came by and most importantly, to me. They were a great help to me.

Several months later, when the State of New Jersey offered classes on disaster relief crisis counseling through FEMA, I enrolled with the blessing of His Eminence Metropolitan Evangelos. I also attended additional trainings in the New York area. I felt this was my way of giving back.  

When the email came for Frontliners to deploy to Houston, it was really a no brainer. I flew down and was assigned to the convention center shelter with other clergy. Our role was to offer support to the thousands there who had been displaced and to the many law-enforcement officers, as well as to the parishes of Annunciation Cathedral and St. Basil (Greek Orthodox Archdiocese).

I had the opportunity to meet with a group of parishioners from the Cathedral and offer them my experience supporting our own who have been displaced. Within hours, a parish website was set up connecting various people within the community who could help in different ways. It was satisfying to offer what I had learned from my parish and offer that assistance to others.

In general, our people are very thankful for IOCC. One comment I heard several times was “We’ve heard of IOCC but never thought they had so much to offer. It’s a great feeling to know that IOCC is here when we most need them.”