People Power in the Neighborhood

Genie Abrams

By Genie Abrams

During the power blackout in Newburgh last weekend, the whole city was without electricity, heat, hot water, traffic lights, street lamps, gas pumps, and a lot more items that are usually considered necessities. I took the opportunity to walk around the neighborhood in the almost cruelly bright, icy sunshine Sunday morning and found a whole lot going on …

Preachers preached, flocks flocked and even some businesses plowed ahead despite lacking electricity and heat. Two dozen workers’ cars were parked at Dickson Street’s Unitex laundry plant, a seven-day operation. A semi-tractor trailer driver, who had backed up to the loading dock at about 11 a.m., said, “They’re washing the laundry by hand in there, and we’re trucking it to other plants to be dried.” It’s crucial that the work gets done because Unitex supplies linens to hospitals throughout the region.

At Iglesia de Dios, a large church on the same street, worshippers flowed through its open doors to attend the morning service with pastor Joaquin Pena. “It’s wonderful to be able to worship together, even without power,” said one young woman who was herding three children inside.

The Sunoco station and convenience store around the corner, at South William and South Lake streets, was open. The gas pumps weren’t pumping and, since that’s what draws many customers, who then duck in for coffee and a hard roll, it was a bit lonely there. But by the light streaming through its wide-open door, clerks added up purchases using handheld calculators like the kind displayed, along with lip balm and tire gauges, on the shop’s walls.

Down the street, on South Lake between Broadway and Washington Terrace, Jessi’s Mexican-American Diner was doing a brisk business, thanks to a generator that enabled cooking to continue. “The place is packed,” said a man who was leaving with a large takeout bag. That assessment was confirmed by a line that extended out the door and down the steps.

“Praise God, from whom all blessings flow,” the congregation was belting out at Grace United Methodist Church at about that same time. “Praise Him, all creatures here below!”

Nearly 35 people attended the two services there Sunday morning. Why didn’t they just snuggle under the covers and try to stay warm?

“They come in any conditions, to celebrate who we are – children of the One God,” said the Rev. Dr. Evelyn McDonald, pastor at Grace. “Even after a night that was challenging to the people of Newburgh, we awoke to a day that is bright – a day that is God’s day. We came to sing, to praise and to be spiritually renewed for the week ahead.”

The congregation stayed to enjoy one another’s company after services, along with cups of hot tea made on the church’s gas stove, which needed only a match to be fired up.

In sum, I found what I suspected I might in my neighborhood — a little thing like a lack of power wasn’t going to keep Newburghers from keepin’ on.

Genie Abrams is a longtime resident of Newburgh. She is a copy editor for the Times Herald-Record and author of the novel, “Louey Levy’s Greatest Catch.” Her website is

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2 Responses to “People Power in the Neighborhood”

  1. Jeffrey Page Says:

    Wonderful slice of life in the days of the storm.


  2. Anita Says:

    Genie, a lovely piece. I felt like I was there with you.

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