One year of Disaster Response in the UCC Ohio Conference

October 19, 2010

What qualifies as a disaster? New Orleans after Katrina? Certainly. Haiti after the earthquake? Obviously. The Gulf Coast after the oil spill? Unfortunately, yes. How about floods in the mountains of West Virginia? Or a tornado in Wood County, Ohio?

By Jim Ditzler and George Siddall, Ohio Conference Disaster Response Co-Coordinators


Even though these kinds of “minor” disasters might not make front page news, they are devastating to the people whose homes or businesses are broken, filled with mud or soaked in filthy water. They are pain-filled for the congregation members who stand before a sanctuary filled with debris that used to be its roof.  It is the ministry of our Ohio Conference Disaster Response Team to help people caught in situations like these.  The past year brought us many opportunities to serve amid some challenging situations.


This modest home near Gilbert, West Virginia, was filled with several feet of water by the 2009 flood.  The interior had to be gutted and rebuilt from the wall studs out. The owner had begun work when all his tools and much building material was stolen. The Disaster Response Team has sponsored several Ohio Conference work teams to help make the home livable again. Pictured above are volunteers from Westerville Community UCC

West Virginia

In May 2009, southern West Virginia experienced severe flooding and landslides. Late that year, we prepared to send groups to do long-term recovery work in the area.  We visited potential work sites to see the damage and assess the repair work needed.  Team members talked with new case workers from Catholic Charities, and projects were identified in Wyoming County.  Groups from Cleveland, Akron, and Wooster spent long weekends repairing flooded homes; one group from North Lima spent an entire week. 

We encountered significant challenges in providing housing for volunteers, and the local case worker declined to coordinate volunteer work, so our attention moved to Mingo County.  A group from Richfield UCC visited one particularly needy case and decided to undertake it as a personal project.  Again there was inconsistent hospitality from the Catholic Charities case worker, and the Richfield group has continued work there independent of her participation.  Housing for volunteers in Mingo County is good.

Last summer the mission work group from Westerville Community UCC spent another week in West Virginia, which they’ve been doing for many summers.  Most of their construction work was focused on four homes, all damaged by flooding or mud slides. This group brings an admirable and effective commitment to their mission work.

Galveston, Texas

Do you remember Hurricane Ike?  It may be difficult to recall this natural disaster because of the more recent earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, the massive oil spill on the Gulf Coast and the flooding in Nashville, Tennessee.

Hurricane Ike, which hit the greater Galveston area in 2008, was the third most devastating hurricane to make landfall in the U.S. In response, UCC volunteers joined in a rebuilding effort, sharing in the grubby but gratifying work of rebuilding homes destroyed by the storm.

George and Jean Siddall, of Lebanon, Ohio served in Galveston during January-February 2010 as “Partners in Service” of the United Church of Christ’s Office of Volunteer Service. They were Station Managers at First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Texas City, hosting volunteer groups.

During their stay, they hosted volunteers from Creede UCC, Creede, Colorado; Congregational Community Church, Monroeville, Ohio (Wayne Chasney, pastor); St. John’s UCC, Milan, Ohio (Wendy Schindler-Chasney, pastor) and a group of lay people from Southwest Ohio Northern Kentucky Association.

During the month, most volunteers worked on one house owned by a disabled Vietnam veteran and his wife, who were living in a FEMA trailer on the property. The volunteers rewired, re-plumbed, dry-walled and mudded the house. After the UCC volunteers left, other volunteers finished the work. The house was dedicated nine weeks and three days after the Siddalls and the UCC volunteers first walked into it on January 18, 2010.

New Orleans

In early May, Jim Ditzler led a group of 23 volunteers to New Orleans for a week of repair work on Katrina-damaged homes.  During the drive to New Orleans, the group passed through Nashville in extremely heavy rains which subsequently led to much-publicized flooding in many counties.  This same storm system crossed into southern Ohio and caused serious flash flooding in multiple counties.


Southern Ohio

In early June, team members made assessment trips to Lawrence County, Ohio to determine where help was needed most.  Shortly afterward team member Terry Tangeman led a cleanup effort using equipment from the new mud-out trailer.  Some materials for basement wall repair were funded.


Northern Ohio

Also last summer, a tornado touched in a few counties south of Toledo but did the greatest damage in Wood County.  Five persons lost their lives.  St. Peter’s UCC, located in the heart of Millbury, was undamaged, but it became a focal point to the recovery work, serving as the American Red Cross operations center for several days.  With the non-stop service of their pastor, Rev. Kathryn Helleman, the congregation received and distributed donations, directed volunteers, and served round-the-clock meals to many, many volunteers.


Milwaukee, Wisconsin

In late July, Jim Ditzler received a call for help from people responding to floods in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In less than 48 hours Terry Tangeman was on his way to Milwaukee with about 750 cleanup and personal care kits.  Two days later, Jim received another plea for kits from the same people. Terry loaded the trailer with another 750 kits and delivered them to Milwaukee. Thanks to churches who build up our inventory of kits and our dedicated team members, we were able to be first responders to deliver 1500-1700 kits to people who badly needed them.


Tool Trailer Theft

This Spring all power tools and many hands tools were stolen from our tool trailer, parked near a rural Ohio UCC church. This was painful. Following a careful review of our experience with the tool trailer, the team members decided not to replace the equipment and to use the trailer for storage.


Future Work Trips Anticipated

As this is being written, the team has unfilled requests for help from counties in southern Ohio.  We continue to work in West Virginia, and the Disaster Response team helps with the purchase of repair materials when one of our church work groups carries out the work.

Disasters are common in Ohio.  Although many are not publicized as major events are, the pain, suffering and disrupted lives are real.  This ministry continues to be very, very important to many people—to the people whose lives and property have been torn apart and to the many church members seeking a way to serve as Christ’s disciples through hands-on ministry.

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