Written by Joellen Barak
MANHATTAN, NY, January 18, 2013 – Sofia and her husband Stephan lost everything—even Stephan’s hearing aids—to Superstorm Sandy when their Brighton Beach apartment flooded. They were determined to rebuild their lives themselves—they found a new apartment on their own and moved in. But then Stephan lost his job because he couldn’t hear his supervisor’s instructions, and the couple realized that they needed help.
Felice Steele, a Red Cross nurse, immediately started making plans to replace Stephan’s hearing aids, but she didn’t speak Russian. That, combined with Sofia’s limited English and Stephan’s limited hearing, made communication difficult. Steele got the idea to contact a local Russian Orthodox Church to see if a priest would be able to help with translation. She reached Father Michael Suvak and Father Christopher Calin at the Cathedral of the Holy Virgin of Protection, and they were able to put her in touch with Father Vladimir Alexeev at Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Church, who provided vital translation services.
Through Father Vladimir, Steele discovered that Sofia and Stephan were also in danger of losing their rental housing if they couldn’t come up with $800. The congregation at the Cathedral had taken up a special collection for Sandy victims in their church, including Father Michael, whose apartment was flooded to the ceiling. Once the funds were disbursed among congregation members, there was a remainder of $900. Father Christopher said that he wanted “to make sure the funds went for Sandy victims, not other purposes,” so the check was made out to Stephan and Sofia. They received the $800 they needed for rent, and the extra $100 for other flood-caused needs.
Father Christopher was even able to provide a job lead for Stephan and Sofia—one that includes housing. Another local Russian Orthodox church is looking for a caretaker couple to live on site, and Father Christopher plans to introduce Sofia and Stephan to the priest in that congregation.
A tearful Sofia said through a translator, “We are so happy to not feel abandoned and alone. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”