United Church of Christ congregations across the country are collaborating with other churches, businesses and organizations around emergency clean-up buckets, to make sure the much-needed supplies get to the people who need them in Texas, Florida and beyond. Just this week, more than 1,000 five-gallon buckets, valued at more than $75 each, were or will be transported from Illinois, New York and North Carolina to designated distribution centers.
When Hurricane Harvey came ashore in Texas, the people of Corinth Reformed Church in Hickory, N.C., decided they had to do something to reach out and help those affected. The congregation partnered with two other churches in the community, and set a two-week deadline to put their plan in motion. Then Irma hit Florida, followed quickly by Maria.
"We gave people the option to donate assembled buckets, but only a handful came in that way," said the Rev. Bob Thompson of Corinth Reformed Church, who initiated the ecumenical project. "Mostly they donated money, and Lowes was terrific to work with us in assembling the buckets."
The local home improvement store, headquartered in Charlotte, used the funds from Corinth, Discovery Church and First Presbyterian Church to put together cleanup kits containing dozens of supplies — disinfectants, detergents, scrub brushes, latex gloves and masks — that will be used by those whose homes and belongings have been damaged by the hurricanes and subsequent flooding.
"I had told them I thought we'd have money for somewhere between 50 and 500," Thompson said. "We hit the higher number, which means that in just a few days they had to send box trucks to lots of locations to get 500 of each item. The Lowes team was terrific."
The buckets, assembled by store employees in a staff room, were then delivered by Lowes in Hickory to Corinth on Sunday, Sept. 17, and blessed during worship. Wednesday, Sept. 20, a team of congregation members loaded them up on a truck bound for a Church World Service distribution center.
"We were very fortunate to have a friend of mine, Mark Radke, who is the owner of Inter-Continental in Newton, N.C., help us with transportation of the buckets to their destination," said David Parsons, chair of the Missions Board at Corinth. "Mark sent one of his trucks to Corinth Church, members of Corinth loaded the 509 buckets into his truck. Mark took them back to his plant, palletized and shrink wrapped them, then arranged transportation by an outside trucking company to the Church World Services' warehouse in New Windsor, Md. He did all this at no cost to Corinth. CWS will determine whether they are sent to Texas or Florida."
"What I love about this is the connection among the three churches," Thompson noted. "Church World Service has the infrastructure and the system to get the buckets where they're needed the most. In our own communities, we can connect with each other more deeply in the service of Christ when we forget what separates us and focus on how we can love the world together in Christ's name."
On Tuesday, Sept. 26, St. Paul UCC of Corpus Christ delivered almost 500 cleanup buckets and other materials to a disaster distribution center in Port Aransas, Texas. The $40,000 worth of supplies, donated by the United Church of Christ congregations of the Illinois South Conference, were shipped free of charge, and with the help of St. Paul and pastor the Rev. Burton Bagby-Grose, taken all the way to their destination by Stock Transfer, Inc.
Illinois-South Disaster Coordinator Phyllis Self said, "I knew we had to do something here in ISC and was beginning to talk things over with our Conference Minister, Shana Johnson when I got a call from Chris Cox, President and CEO of Hoyleton Youth and Family Services, saying they wanted to partner with the Conference and local churches in a response effort."
Hoyleton Youth and Family Services, a member of the UCC Council on Health and Human Service Ministries (CHHSM), pledged 50 completed buckets from their organization's staff and Board members. So Self reached out to the conference's 80 churches and more than half participated, creating over 400 additional kits.
"I was checking the UCC website often, hoping to find a bucket drop off in Texas," she said."I read a piece about St. Paul UCC in Corpus Christi receiving 200 Buckets so I looked them up and emailed Pastor Burton to see if they needed more."
Bagby-Grose said the UCC is becoming popular in that hard-hit coastal area. With this shipment, which replenished the depot's much-needed cleanup supplies, almost 800 buckets have been delivered by the people of St. Paul, with the help of others in the denomination.
"Port Aransas has been a little bit forgotten, with all devastation in Houston, and then in Florida," he said. "It's a smaller community, but it looks like a war zone. It's really shocking."
The emergency kits are important, Bagby-Grose said, for several reasons. "Clean up buckets are done. They are a symbol of being the hands and feet of Christ here on earth. They are right here, ready to go out immediately to people who need them. In this case, handing them something pre-assembled showed them that people care. The depot manager said that – she was very appreciative of all the work that went into the bucket, with supplies that could go out to people right away."
In Southwest Florida, Rotary members engaged in clean-up efforts in the particularly devastated area of Bonita Springs will soon be getting a shipment of buckets, courtesy of Naples United Church of Christ and a congregation from New York.
Naples UCC pastor the Rev. Dawson Taylor said he was approached for assistance on Sept. 23 and mentioned the request in a clergy meeting the next day with Disaster Ministries representatives and Florida Conference Minister John Vertigan. Immediately the wider church came through.
"We now have 150 emergency kits on the way from Ebenezer UCC in West Seneca, NY.," Taylor said. "They are being driven by Paul Bornhoeft and his son, who are members of the congregation, after they were assembled by the church. He has already told my staff that if he can't bring everything in the first load, he'll make a second trip.
"In addition, we are working to bring-in over 100 flood buckets from the Orlando area that are in storage for 'such a time as this,'" Taylor continued. "This is a great partnership between our congregation and Rotary and shows the power of our denomination at work."
"What we are finding, as we think about the UCC logo, we are living into Jesus' beautiful words 'that they may all be one,'" Bagby-Grose said. "It's a wonderful sentiment; we are not black, white, male or female. We are human. Seeing people of all faith backgrounds and people of no faith backgrounds coming together to help each other. It's pretty cool."
Thompson, who noted his project was a "really cool thing on so many levels," said, "I really do believe that the best way to point the world to Christ is by our unified service and acts of love."
Learn more about assembling Church World Service Emergency Clean Up Buckets, and apply for one of the last matching grants from Disaster Ministries.