Nebraska UCC offers food, shelter to local residents impacted by apartment fire
First Congregational United Church of Christ is located in the heart of the small town of Crete, Neb. So when disaster strikes, as it did when a local apartment complex caught fire last week, the church is always one of the first groups to open its doors and lend a hand. To the Rev. Jeff Hagaman, it’s the church’s duty to be a pillar of its community.
“We take our location in the middle of town seriously and try to be the center of the community in any way we can,” said Hagaman, pastor of First Congregational UCC. “When community crises happen, we are ready in an emergency. We know what to do – we’ve done this before.”
The fire broke out at the apartment complex on the evening of Dec. 11, killing one person and destroying the homes of several others. A member of First Congregational heard about the fire on his police scanner and, within minutes, the church was open to provide shelter for those who had to evacuate. About 30 people, including many women and children, gathered at First Congregational and were placed in local hotels by the Red Cross, while a few stayed overnight at the church. First Congregational UCC also donated clothing to those who were unable to return to their homes before work or school the next day.
The next evening, about 10 volunteers from the congregation donated food and gathered to prepare a hot meal at the church for those who were still displaced.
“After making a couple of calls, we had more food than we needed,” Hagaman said.
Most of the people impacted by the fire have either been able to return home or have been placed in temporary housing. Since then, a few families have returned to First Congregational for more clothing donated from the church’s clothes closet, established 10 years ago in the aftermath of another apartment complex fire.
Hagaman notes that all of the people impacted by the fire were members of Crete’s large immigrant population – families from Cuba, Guatemala, Mexico and Sudan – which the church supports in various ways throughout the year. Among other efforts, First Congregational offers English as a Second Language classes each week, and hosted a forum Dec. 12 to break down the details of President Obama’s proposed immigration policy, which was attended by about 80 people from the community. For members of First Congregational, this is simply another way for the congregation to live out its ministry.
“None of the people we helped were members of our church, but they were all members of our community,” Hagaman said. “It’s our understanding of our ministry – everybody knows they can contact us.”
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