When we hear the word "charity" we think of love towards our neighbors, love made visible as in service to others. What does charity really mean to us? Charity, I believe, is the pure joy of giving. It includes more than material things. We see it in the warmth of a smile from a stranger, a hand written thank-you-letter, a comforting hug, a healing prayer, a kindness to a grieving friend, a bonding with someone in need. It is a karmic longing. We feel an abundance of warmth and loving when we give. The true nature of charity is that the more you give; the more love comes back to us.
Nowhere did we see more charity and outpouring of love than in the recent crisis in the Northeast called "Hurricane Sandy". There were firefighters, police officers, and EMS workers in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania risking their lives for strangers in need. They were brave and courageous. They protected and rescued families, pets and homes. They provided a service. The service of saving lives.
Others cleared sewage, repaired power outages, provided temporary shelters, food, water and medical assistance. And true to the saying "charity begins at home"; many of these services began and ended at the funeral home. Mother Teresa of Calcutta once stated "Charity to be fruitful must cost us. To love it is necessary to give: to give it is necessary to be free from selfishness". And free from selfishness is exactly how more than 25 funeral directors acted when "Hurricane Sandy" came crashing down on our beaches, shores and homes.
We didn't think that this storm would be as devastating as it was. We didn't think that 111 homes in Breezy Point, NY would be burned to the ground. We never thought that over 30 people on Staten Island alone would lose their lives to this terrible storm. But we saw grace; nobility and true character emerge that solemn day. Meg Dunn, President/CEO of A.A.M.I. (American Academy McAllister Institute of Funeral Service) in NY was the first to answer the plea for help. 18 A.A.M.I. alumni followed suit as well as funeral vendors such as ASD, a top funeral home answering service.
ASD sent boxes of donations from their employees to The Scalia Funeral Home in Staten Island for distribution to those in need. None of these victims had the monies to pay for a funeral.
And then the limousine companies heard the call. Cosmopolitan Coach of Bklyn. /Long Island started packing their hearses and delivering food, clothing and 50 cases of much needed water for Sandy's victims. Even funeral director's children came forward to aid those in distress. Chris Kasler, a funeral director with Sherman's Flatbush Memorial Chapel in Bklyn. was discussing his efforts to coordinate the funeral services of the decedents of "Hurricane Sandy", when his daughter Justine Brooks quietly collected her 30 pairs of new sneakers and donated them to the living.
She knew that many of those impacted by the storm had lost their homes and had only the clothes on their backs, so she took her prized sneaker collection and generously provided footwear for 30 young girls.
As Kevin Moran, a funeral director at The Scalia Funeral Home in Staten Island and an Instructor at A.A.M.I. so eloquently stated "It's all about service. It's what we can do. If you're a sanitation worker, you clear the sewage, if you're a baker, you bake, if you're a funeral director, you take care of the dead with care and grace."
Then there was this Facebook message from Tim E. Ryan of New Jersey. "So Hurricane Sandy has destroyed two of my funeral homes. They are telling us that it will be at least eight months before we can start to rebuild." Tim also lost his home, his hearse, his removal van and his auto. What was the first thing that Tim did? He made his way to New York and other affected areas to help bury the dead. He and other funeral professionals worked in New York and New Jersey funeral homes, doing what they could "in service". They provided funeral and memorial services for those in need.
Many other funeral directors and funeral homes waived service fees and many donated entire funerals. Funeral funds were established in many area churches and community centers. One cemetery donated grave sites. Scarpaci Funeral Home in NY buried two young boys, 2 & 4 yrs. old who were swept up in the deadly waters.
Of all the generosity shown by funeral service professionals during this time of crisis, one funeral home and their employees stand out amongst the rest. John Scalia, his Son-In-Law Kevin Moran and their families have donated many funeral services free of charge. The first was a Postal worker who told his 21 & 25 yr. old daughters to go on ahead while he shut down the circuit breaker in their home. They never saw their Dad again as a 20 ft. tidal wave swept him away. He was found days later in the marsh land. When these two young women arrived at Scalia's Funeral Home, both Kevin and John immediately took care of everything and provided their Dad with a dignified funeral at no cost.
What makes this story so heartwarming is that John & Kevin's generosity did not stop with funeral service. John also owns The Historic Old Bermuda Inn on Staten Island and opened its' doors to all, providing food and shelter for more months for victims and volunteers. They also cooked and distributed meals to the high schools and other temporary shelters, along with blankets and clothing. Their funeral home sent an email to members of The Order of the Golden Rule, an independent funeral home association of several hundred who also donated supplies and goods from as far away as Canada and Australia. So quietly, and without fanfare, Scalia fills their hearses with donations from this association. Other ordinary citizens collect memorial donations and distribute the monies to those still in need and those still grieving the loss of their loved ones, because as Kevin Moran stated "Funeral service doesn't end when the casket gets lowered into the ground. That's why we call it funeral service."
Charity is giving something of significance to another without the expectation of receiving anything in return. Not recognition for a good deed. Not even a thank you. Charity is giving for its' own sake. The true meaning of charity is love. And during the crisis of "Hurricane Sandy" charity did begin at home; the funeral home.
Do you have a story of a charitable act involving funeral service? We'd love to hear it.