The Unsung Heroes: Donors of Unrestricted Gifts

(Remember: This is an un-official, un-endorsed, un-pasteurized, un-anything post not officially representative of any organization, individual, or any carbon-based lifeform except for myself.)

As of 10:30 this morning, March 13, seven people are dead and more are still missing in the wake of a gas explosion/building collapse in Manhattan’s East Harlem neighborhood. The Red Cross has been responding for just over 24 hours at this point, and the volunteers and staff are rotating on and off 12-hour shifts. The dedication of every Red Crosser, on and off the scene, is terrific.

I’d like to send a shout-out to the heroes of this response who aren’t on the scene and probably never will be: the people and organizations who have donated money to the Red Cross without specifying that it be used for a specific disaster.

At 9 a.m. yesterday morning, no one knew that there were going to be dozens of people in need of food, clothing and shelter in a couple of hours. Thanks to thousands of donors who had previously sent money without saying, “I want this to be used only for X disaster,” the Red Cross could send a truck with shelter equipment (cots, blankets, etc) for 100+ people from their upstate warehouse, down to the city right away. Meals could be solicited as purchases or donations from commercial kitchens that have strict food safety standards. Clothing, comfort items, and other immediate necessities were already on hand to be given out immediately to survivors.

The volunteers and staff of the Red Cross in the NY area have responded to 2100+ fires, floods, storm emergencies, and other disasters since July 1 of last year. The vast majority of them never made the news, but for the people who lost their homes and belongings, each event was shattering.

The donors who give to the Red Cross and other disaster response groups, without limiting the recipients of their help, are the silent heroes of response. Their generosity ensures that people who are poor, un-”TV-sexy,” economically and/or linguistically isolated, all get help when their lives are shattered by a local emergency.

So, to all those who have donated in whatever size, who are great-hearted enough to give freely without a pre-picked cause–thank you!

As I start my 51st year

I am thankful.

I didn’t get where I am today without help from many, many people–and I know I got born into substantial privilege. It wasn’t money privilege: we lived under the poverty level at times.

I was born white, to English-speaking citizens of the United States, who were highly literate and valued education, valued their girl child as much as their boy child, and gave me the tools I needed to be employed and housed in this society. I did nothing, nothing to earn that good fortune. Yes, I work hard, but I never forget that I wouldn’t be able to work that hard without the support I got from my (functional) family and (functional) community.

Thankfulness isn’t just for a Thursday in November. It’s for every time you wake up.

MaryO’s rules for effective complaining

My Adorable Sweetiepie writes to me, “You are probably the most effective squeaky wheel to ever rub an axle the wrong way.” She’s also told me that my “high dudgeon” is a bit unnerving (well, the exact word she used was “scary.”)

I operate with three rules and one precondition when I complain about a situation:

Precondition: It has to be something that does have a realistic resolution. Otherwise, I’m just whining.

  1. I don’t exaggerate, misrepresent, embellish, or lie. I have independently verifiable proof that the situation existed and affected me.
  2. I ask for a concrete, reasonable resolution that will satisfy my needs without humiliating, embarrassing, or unnecessarily inconveniencing the creator of the situation.
  3. When the situation is resolved, I stop complaining, say “Thank you,” and acknowledge the effort that went into the resolution.

I have found that this process keeps relationships intact, and allows for good will to stay and grow.

For those of you who may not be exposed to “stewardship talks”

This is what I had to say on Sunday, September 29th, at my parish, as the first of a series of “Stewardship Moments” by parishioners:

On Friday afternoon, I had been pretty sure what I was intending to say today. But after I listened to Bishop Dietsche’s remarks at the Cathedral yesterday [Saturday], I turned to Father Gabe and said, “The bishop just blew up my stewardship talk.”

We–Father Gabe; Theresa Goldsborough, and I–were at the opening session of the diocesan Indaba process. “Indaba” refers to a continuing conversation of listening and learning, among groups of lay and clergy representatives from sets of 3 diverse parishes–in our case, a suburban New Rochelle parish, and a rural church in Orange County. This is a parochial manifestation of our stewardship campaign slogan, “Connect and commit.”

What does Indaba have to do with stewardship?

Quite a lot. We call ourselves “Anglo-Catholic;” “Catholic” means that we do not live unto ourselves as a congregation, but that we have real ties to our brother and sister Christians in the life of Jesus Christ.

The stewardship we engage in here at St. Luke’s–the commitment of our time, talent, and treasure–is visible in our infrastructure of buildings, with electricity, running water, and staff, that our pledges support. It’s visible in our outreach programs that, although funded separately, are the product of many people’s time and talent, and could not exist without our real estate and our location. Those, given as a gift from Queen Anne to Trinity in 1684, and to us in 1820, are a sheer gift. No one here did anything to acquire this land. It is our responsibility and our pleasure to preserve and use all these resources.

But our stewardship here reaches out to the good of the wider church. There is much that St. Lukers do that is not visible on Sunday morning.

Our assessment–the money we contribute to the diocese–helps keep lights on, toilets flushing, and clergy serving around the diocese. St. Luke’s parishioners and clergy serve on a variety of diocesan committees. These include the Adjustment Board, to help parishes in financial difficulty and the LGBT concerns committee. I am part of the biennial Acolyte Festival, which draws attendees from many of the poorest parishes in the diocese. Over the years, St. Luke’s has fostered vocations of priests, scholars, and other church servants. We have participated in the formation of dozens of seminarians from all over the church.

Now–this can lead to our “marinating in our own magnificence.”

We are very proud of our block, our clergy, our amazing music, and we are proud of our good works.

We live in a bit of a “glossy bubble.” We are also, as Bishop Dietsche puts it, in a silo. I would posit that we are also in internal silos within St. Luke’s–service by service; social group by social group; committee by committee.

We can fall into assumptions about St. Luke’s and St. Lukers, because we think we know everything there is to know about our own parish. Be wary of that.

The Indaba process is challenging us to listen and learn humbly from parishes across chasms of location, class, ethnicity, and worship style. I suggest that in praying over our use of time, talent, and treasure internally here at St. Luke’s, we each examine what “silos” we might have built.

Examine and pray about the possibilities of changing up your worship time, your volunteer patterns, and see what else God might have in mind for you.

_We_ “are to do go, to be rich in good works, gentleness, and ready to share.”

God bless.

Ten emergencies in 24 hours

(Remember–everything I write is from me, Mary, and no organization.)

On Monday, July 22, I took a vacation day from my day job. I am the technology manager for a nonprofit firm that helps low-income women, the majority of them domestic violence survivors. I put in around 50 hours a week in and out of the office. I love my job, adore my coworkers and managers, and have no interest in doing anything else for pay.

It was a rare day for me, with no business, personal, or church obligations.

Because I am a volunteer senior responder, I get reports every four hours, around the clock, from the Greater New York Red Cross chapter, listing every response to emergencies in the five boroughs of New York City, as well as Nassau, Suffolk, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Sullivan and Westchester counties; and Greenwich, Connecticut.

I also get emails from a news service that sends notifications of every fire-related emergency in New York City. I am on four or five mailing lists at the Red Cross, that are designated recipients for these and other subjects.

I open everything I get, and I read most of them.

While I was sleeping (and maybe you were, too)

8 oclockWhen I woke up a little after 8:00 a.m. on Monday morning, I saw that I had 18 emails from midnight on. Between midnight and 4:00 a.m., two responders had gone to two fires, one in a building with 34 apartments and another in a housing project with 218 units. A third responder had given financial assistance to an upstate family in a single-family-house fire.

By 8:00 a.m., there was only one additional fire, in Westchester, that a responder from the area had gone to. That was a good thing, because there were exactly two people available in the response unit in NYC.

From breakfast until lunch:

By lunchtime, 8 adults and 3 children left homeless by the Westchester fire, had gotten housing, financial and other assistance. Four Red Crossers, two of them bilingual, had gone to their assistance.

I’d gotten 15 more emails regarding requests for government documentation of apartment vacates, reports of a car crashing into a tree, and several requests for corrected information on clients. (It’s hard to type into a keyboard when standing in the street, up to your ankles in water and surrounded by scared people all looking for reassurance at once. Typos happen.)

Here’s more–the twenty emergencies that had taken place between midnight Saturday and midnight Sunday, were being evaluated and assessed by caseworkers in the office on Monday morning, to be sure that the families affected were getting everything they needed. I don’t get emails about all that work.

After lunch:

A fire broke out in an 83-unit apartment building in Brooklyn. This was a “10-75″, the FDNY designation for a fire that needs multiple units to respond. The American Red Cross in Greater New York responds to every 10-75 in an occupied multiple dwelling, in New York City.

Around 2:30 p.m., a fire in an apartment complex in Orange County went to a third alarm–the fire service designation for a major fire. Their local responders got sent on their way to that incident.

And then, all hell broke loose.

fireAt 3:49 p.m., the “10-75″ was transmitted for a fire in a 41-unit building in Hamilton Heights, in Manhattan. 16 minutes later, the fire was designated a third-alarm, and the Emergency Communications Center at the Manhattan Red Cross office went into high gear.

Here is what happens for a third-alarm fire in New York City:

  • Any available warm bodies in the response area start to fill an Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV) with snacks, heater meals, and cold and hot water.
  • A dispatcher begins a “call-down” to every NYC hotel that works with the Red Cross, to determine how many rooms are available if housing is needed.
  • Disaster Health Services volunteers and staff are notified, along with Public Affairs teams.
  • Responders–both volunteer and paid–are contacted to ask them to come in before their shifts begin, to provide extra help. (That’s tough on the people who have full-time jobs, especially folks who are already juggling child care and commuting needs.)
  • Client caseworkers are notified to stand by.
  • The available responders are sent out to the fire, two in the ERV, and at least two in a van, to begin to assess the situation. If there are trainees, they are sent along to help and to gain experience.

When I saw the report, I called the dispatch center to see if they needed me. “Get in here!” was the answer.

By the time I arrived, the day volunteers had gone home or to work themselves, and the fire had grown to a fifth alarm. There were four responders on the scene, and four people in the communications center. We were answering the regular number of calls about Sandy recovery, CPR training, blood donations, and information requests, as well as coordinating and verifying information received from the Office of Emergency Management, Housing Preservation and Development, and communications from the previous three-alarm in Orange County.

Then at 5:16 p.m. another “10-75″ came in, for a 109-apartment building fire in Manhattan.

At 5:20 p.m., part of the roof collapsed on the 5-alarm fire building. For us, this meant that housing was almost certainly going to be required for many, if not all, of the tenants.

For the next two hours, the on-call Disaster Sheltering volunteer team was called and began to assemble. The on-site responders worked with the Office of Emergency Management to get access to and set up a nearby public school as a reception center/shelter. Logistics workers rolled out a truck to assemble and transport shelter supplies, including cots, blankets, chairs, signage, and so on.

At 5:28 p.m., we were notified of a fire in Nassau County, for which we would have to contact a responder.

And then it got worse

At 6:46 p.m., we were were notified of a “transportation incident” at LaGuardia Airport. The Office of Emergency Management asked us to stand by. Another request came in to find a source for 150 meals, if they were to become necessary.

As soon as the airport incident had been reported to us, workers in Disaster Staffing sent out a blast email and phone call to all trained volunteers, asking them to call in if they were available. So, that resulted in a cascade of calls to the dispatchers, from regular but off-duty volunteers who had that number in their speed dials.

At 6:53 p.m., we received the closing status update of housing and financial assistance provided to the survivors of the Orange County fire.

By 8:00 p.m., I’d gotten 52 more emails about all this.

At 8:20 p.m., a “10-75″ was transmitted for a fire in a 2-family building in Brooklyn.

At 8:25 p.m., a “10-75″ was transmitted for a fire in a 60-unit apartment building in Queens.

For each fire, someone in the dispatch center calls the FDNY Fire Operations unit to confirm that the building does contain residences, and that we will be needed. Fortunately, the 8:25 fire proved to not need a Red Cross response.

A long-distance call from a panicked mother

I answered a call from a woman in the Midwest, whose adult child had just moved into the Manhattan fire building. Her child had texted her with some disturbing comments, and the mother was frightened for the health of her offspring. This was very tough–the child was over 21, I had no actual proof that the mother was who she said she was, and the mother was telling me things that were really the child’s private business.

In one short phone call, lots of major issues had to be dealt with on the fly:

  • If the adult child is as sick as the mother says, they need immediate medical attention.
  • If they do not want medical attention, as an adult they can refuse it.
  • Any information about the child’s present location, is by Red Cross policy, private and not shareable with anyone without consent. I got the head of Disaster Health to give me advice, and her decision was to call 911 and get the proper professionals on the scene to make the evaluation.

It was a very tense phone call. I was trying to support the mother, get the needed information about the person at risk, and get advice from the mental health professionals who were on another line.

At the same time, we were receiving status updates from the Manhattan fire response team and the airport team, via email and phone.

We were getting emails about car crashes around the city (we weren’t needed), a request for flood assistance from a home in Connecticut (we were), and more calls and emails from volunteers who were just getting to their email or phone messages.

I finally left some time around 10:30 p.m., I think. I had to be at my day job at 9:30 a.m. the next morning, and I hadn’t eaten anything since lunch.

By 12:20 a.m. Tuesday, I had received 101 email messages regarding disasters and the work Red Crossers were doing in response to them.

The concept of “office hours” means nothing in an active emergency; at the end of the typical business day, every available paid Red Cross worker and volunteer was operating at full speed.

I’m sorry some non-Red-Cross people think we are such slackers.

What is a “safe” neighborhood?

Last Friday, basking in the afterglow of the Supreme Court LGBT rulings, and taking advantage of a half-day Friday, I wandered the far east and north neighborhoods of the Bronx, by bus.

I took the Bx12 SBS from Inwood out to Williamsbridge Road, and the rain swung from a mild drizzle to drenching downpour as soon as I got off that bus, aiming to transfer to the Bx8 toward Throggs Neck. As I waited for the pedestrian light, a young, harried-appearing young lady approached me, waving a sodden piece of paper.

“Ma’am (since when have I become a “ma’am?”), can you help me? I am looking for the medical school entrance.” I remembered that the traditional medical school year starts on July 1, and I replied, “I can help you find it. Is this your first year?”

She nodded and said, “I have an appointment at 11:30, and the buses and subways are so confusing.” She went on to say that she’d moved to the Bronx from Toronto two months previously, and hadn’t really explored her new neighborhood.

I walked with her until we got to her cross street, and I pointed out a pub, a grocery store, and showed her how to use the QR codes on the Bronx bus stop signs. When I directed her on the rest of the way, and took my leave, she gave me a big hug and thanked me profusely.

I turned around and saw a bus coming my way, and was grateful to hop on just as the sky opened again.

The Bx8 bus takes an odd path through the Bronx. Its northern end is in Williamsbridge, at East 226th Street and White Plains Road. After running down along Bronxwood Avenue, it continues on Williamsbridge Road. At Westchester Square, it takes a left turn and proceeds north along Westchester Avenue, and then turns south again at Crosby Avenue. After a turn or two, the water becomes visible where Eastchester Bay meets Long Island Sound. Finally, the bus loops through Edge Avenue and continues down to Longstreet Avenue in Locust Point.

Harding Avenue in the rain.

Harding Avenue in the rain.

The neighborhoods this bus runs through are a broad sampling of the Bronx. Two-and three-family homes, small stores, auto shops, the large medical center, busy commercial hubs, and finally one- and two-family houses tucked into a gated community on the edge of Throggs Neck. The shift in ethnicities, shopping and restaurant styles, and church denominations is thought-provoking.

I thought about my encounter with the young medical student. She was obviously a native speaker of English, apparently of Southeast Asian descent, and well-spoken and well-dressed in the young, Western, casual style. I am a middle-aged Anglo woman, heavyset but mobile, with graying red hair, and I was wearing jeans and a polo shirt.

Neither one of us is likely to be approached and questioned about our presence in any neighborhood in this city. Either of us could be the object of odd, possibly concerned looks, generated by the thought, “Is she lost?” in areas where Anglo or Asian women are a rarity. Either of us is essentially free to travel anywhere in New York City, no more a target of crime than anyone else, in any given neighborhood.

Yet, as I wandered through the residential areas, I wondered about my safety as a lesbian. Which of these neighborhoods would be “safe” for my girlfriend and me? Can we shop, eat out, do laundry, without stares, comments, or physical attacks?

People who, I am sure, think of themselves as good, law-abiding, Christian folks can make a neighborhood intolerable for a same-sex couple. If–and that is a big “if”–a same-sex couple can secure an apartment or home in an ethnically or racially homogeneous neighborhood, who’s to say how at-home they will ultimately feel? The rejection can be anything from icy refusals to acknowledge their existence in stores, to aggressive “faith sharing” attempts by neighbors, to attacks by drunken young adults who will be defended by their families as “good kids.”

As I rode through the various neighborhoods, I found myself thinking:
African-Caribbean? Bad.
African? Very bad.
Irish? I would be fine, my girlfriend maybe not, relationship maybe not acknowledged past “roommates”, but not dangerous except for drunk young men.
Latino? Neutral to okay depending on the country of origin, potentially ”faith-sharing-bad” but not physically dangerous.
Italian? Potentially unwelcoming, but not dangerous except for drunk young men.
Ethnically and racially diverse? Probably okay, if people are mostly used to living in a mix.

That’s my prejudicial, stereotype-ridden gut at work. Race and class assumptions run rampant through my internal risk-assessment process.

How do I know, really, which of the lovely homes in residential, suburban-like neighborhoods are not owned by a same-sex couple? How can I know which homes are not the dwellings of loving parents of LGBT children?

The only way to find out what people and neighborhoods are like, really, is to go spend time there–and get off the bus.

I will, as soon as it stops raining.

Memorial Day: the source document


General Orders No.11, WASHINGTON, D.C., May 5, 1868

The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.

We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose among other things, “of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion.” What can aid more to assure this result than cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes? Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their deaths the tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.

If other eyes grow dull, other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain to us.

Let us, then, at the time appointed gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of spring-time; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from hishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation’s gratitude, the soldier’s and sailor’s widow and orphan.

It is the purpose of the Commander-in-Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope that it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to lend its friendly aid in bringing to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.

Department commanders will use efforts to make this order effective.

 By order of




Adjutant General



Worlds apart–or not

Sunday evening was brisk, but beautiful, in NYC.

I walked from the West Village through Chelsea, then took a bus up to the Lincoln Center area, and walked some more up Broadway. These are some of the wealthiest areas in New York City, and it shows. Block by block, well-designed stores with eye-catching merchandise and young, attractive sales staff had streams of diverse-looking potential customers going in and out. I stopped into a couple of furniture and home goods stores to have a look, and realized there was nothing in them that I wanted or needed. Many items were out of my price range, but there were plenty that–with a little planning–I could certainly have.

I hopped on to another bus headed uptown, and mused on the apartment buildings I passed. They were all the market-rate variety, many with doormen, and I thought about what it takes to have the kind of job that allows one to afford such a place. Certainly, there are married and partnered couples and roommates in them. Still, a six figure income and platinum credit would be an absolute requirement for each of these places.

Then I decided to switch to a bus that runs through Harlem, up through the Bronx via Third Avenue, a street that pretty much divides the borough in half vertically. It was getting toward 8:00 p.m., and the sunset poured rich orange light through the rear of the bus. We passed the Apollo Theatre, that Harlem icon of show-business striving, clothing stores, banks, churches, and continued past the huge Pathmark grocery, and on over the Willis Avenue Bridge.

The very bottom of the Bronx, the once-dreaded “South Bronx” of murder and arson, is now being positioned by realtors as “SoBro”, and new construction is springing up next to gut renovations of small buildings. Yet the area is still dominated by New York City Housing Authority developments–projects. Block after block, these mid- to high-rise buildings with aging signs saying, “Community Center” and “Welcome to [___] Houses” line the southern ends of Willis Avenue and Third Avenue. If you look down the side streets in the breaks between projects, you see three- and four-story buildings that seem to be well-kept small apartment buildings. The streets across from the projects are dotted with ethnic restaurants displaying the Department of Health “A” in their windows, showing maybe half a dozen tables. At this hour on a Sunday, only a few customers were around. I passed one “Intel School of Distinction” and thought fondly of the teachers and students who make that their learning community.

After the projects thin out, Third Avenue becomes solidly packed with tiny storefront churches in buildings of questionable age and stability, auto shops, and new-looking assisted living and supportive housing facilities. These have brightly lit, spare lobbies with a guard desk in them. (I wondered how different, really, the function of a smartly-dressed doorman is.)

The bus was growing crowded with African, African-American, African-Caribbean, and Latino folks. Some of the men carried work tools, and other folks carried Bibles, bags with covered trays of food, and children lugged toys. One woman noticed me — for hours I was the only white, Anglo person I was aware of, and I know I stuck out – and smiled at me over the bobbing heads of her children.

Further north, past Tremont, clothing and furniture stores, along with numerous 24-hour check-cashing places, clump together. I watched as workers, solo or in pairs, swept up the stores and pulled down gates for the night. I remembered how I grew up calling such gates “riot gates”, and was mystified when, in my 30s, I heard some non-New Yorker call them “storm gates”.

I thought about the folks closing up shop, and their customers. I thought about the numberless people in the neighborhood working regularly at unspectacular jobs, going home to the projects or small homes, sending their children off to school, paying the bills, and socializing with their friends.

It’s the same life, ultimately, as the folks in the high-priced Manhattan neighborhoods lead. The scale is different, the stores are different, the compromises made in the course of daily life are different. (Folks who work in small offices in the Bronx are not plagued with late-night and early-morning conference calls, but have deadlines and sales quotas and other kinds of work pressures.) But at the end of the day, a walk down the street, dinner on the table, and friends and family–wherever they gather, be it church, a restaurant, or a sports league–are what they have in common.

I wish New Yorkers took buses around. I wish New Yorkers made time to travel the streets and see the people they share the city with. At the end of the night, as I rode home from Fordham Plaza to Inwood, I felt as though had I traveled across two planets, instead of through a small part of one city.