As flood waters recede across the southeast portion of North Carolina, the amount of clean up and recovery work following Hurricane Florence becomes more evident, with the Southern Conference United Church of Christ responding in several ways. First, coordinating an effort to collectively assemble 500 Emergency Clean-Up Buckets, as a concrete way to assist the people along the coast. Second, with a call for chaplains and experienced crisis counselors to staff Disaster Recovery Centers that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is setting up in the affected areas. Third, with prayers and with presence — neighbors helping neighbors through the difficult days ahead.
"Due to the persistence of high water FEMA is just starting to identify where Disaster Recovery Centers will be placed and when they will open," said Jon Wallace, SOC Conference Disaster Ministries Coordinator. "But the Southern Conference (SOC), responding to the request from a task force of North Carolina Voluntary Agencies Active in Disaster (NCVOAD), put out a text request to all Conference clergy and sent an email to our ecumenical disaster partners. To date more than a dozen UCC and Disciples of Christ clergy have called in to volunteer with more expected."
Crisis counseling will be especially important, and SOC Conference Minister the Rev. Edward Davis said they are making an effort to identify clergy and lay people across the conference with gifts and experience who may wish to volunteer in a variety of needed areas in the months ahead. "Whether responding to requests from partner agencies or serving as chaplain support," Davis said, "the United Church of Christ Southern Conference has outstanding personnel, facilities, and skills to respond immediately and effectively."
The SOC disaster team planners are already seeing that effort take shape. To meet a goal of seeing at least 500 clean up buckets donated by the second week in October, a number of Churches are already assembling them, said the Rev. Colleen Samson, minister of Church Affairs, Western North Carolina Association. She is coordinating their disaster response. "Many people are thankful to be able to help in a concrete way because we care about our neighbors in the eastern part of the state."
The communities of United Church Homes and Services are participating, and have arranged for a truck to collect assembled buckets on Saturday at the Western N.C. Association gathering on Saturday morning, October 6.
UCC Disaster Ministries is currently offering $250 in matching grants to congregations interested in assembling Church World Service (CWS) Emergency Clean-Up Buckets. Each bucket, filled with scouring pads, sponges, scrub brushes, towels, liquid detergent and dish soap, concentrated household cleaner, clothespins, clotheslines, dust masks, waterproof dishwashing gloves, work gloves, 30-45-gallon trash bags, and non-aerosol insect repellent, costs about $75 to provide.
"Fortunately there are stockpiles of clean up kits all across the country and North Carolinians and Virginians affected by Hurricane Florence can receive a kit immediately from Church World Service or from other groups that provide them," said Davis. "What we will be doing is helping to replenish the supplies that are immediately needed but the reality is that with almost 100,000 households that have applied for government disaster assistance, the need for clean-up kits will be ongoing and continue for months even years."
In the Lumberton area, people are working to salvage anything they can, and are gutting houses decimated by floodwaters, mold and mildew. The Rev. Mac Legerton, UCC clergy and executive director and co-founder (with his wife Donna Chavis) of the Center for Community Action, is in the thick of the local cleanup effort.
"I tell people I'm at a loss for words, that what has happened is indescribable," he said. "The basic needs for food and water are being provided — what we really need now are mold removal and remediation supplies and materials. That's the most significant gap in our needs right now. The faith groups, the Methodist and Baptist programs, already have long lists of homes that need to be gutted. We don't have the labor and materials to reach the homes we need to reach. We could really use mold removal chemicals, goggles and hooded disposable coveralls, if you are considering supplying other materials with those buckets."
The Rev. Doug Long, pastor of Umstead UCC in Raleigh, has been in touch with Legerton and hopes to soon coordinate crews of volunteers to assist their neighbors near the coast.
"We were very fortunate to miss almost all the serious effects of hurricane," Long said. "Just a two hour drive away though, the town of Lumberton was anything but fortunate. Still reeling from the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew two years ago, Rev. Mac Legerton says in the wake of Florence things there are now '100 times worse.' We sent a couple of work crews down to assist Mac after Hurricane Matthew. We are now exploring ways to organize and get crews to him and the people of Lumberton, perhaps on a weekly basis. The flood waters still have disconnected some parts of the Lumberton community from road access so this is definitely an organization still in process."
As the SOC continues to assess what needs to be done and where, UCC Disaster Ministries remains ready to assist with a solidarity grant to jump start the long-term recovery process.
"We are mobilizing every asset in the conference to respond wherever we can," Davis said. "Many of the people affected by the storm are poor. This is a justice issue. There are people who were exploited as a result of Hurricane Matthew, and we want to make sure people are not exploited during this disaster." He plans to go to the Wilmington area on Thursday to see what the SOC can do to help there.
"These types of crisis are designed to bring us together, to work as the body of Christ, to heal those who are suffering. I am committed to that," Davis emphasized. "We are united to assist those who are suffering. We are all in this together."