Texas churches reaching out to support neighbors flooded out by Harvey
Churches across Texas and beyond are banding together to get the people of the Houston and coastal areas ravaged by Hurricane Harvey what they need most right now — cash, clean up buckets, hygiene kits, and gift cards.
“After large scale disasters, we are blessed to have a culture that desires to help one another. One of the challenges with giving aid is an understanding of what aid is beneficial,” said South Central Conference Minister the Rev. Don Longbottom. “Please remember financial donations are the most flexible and efficient way to help. Your gifts, whether to UCC Disaster Ministries or our SCC Disaster Relief Fund go 100% towards the intended purpose.”
Sunday, Sept. 3, and for several more Sundays the congregation at Friends Congregational Church, United Church of Christ in College Station, Texas, will be taking a collection for the UCC’s Emergency USA fund, designated to assist the long-term recovery from Hurricane Harvey. The members of the church are also assembling Hygiene Kits and Cleanup Buckets which they will take to Houston area churches for distribution.
“Our Disaster Relief Liaison for the South Central Conference, Mona Lopez, informs me that St. Peter’s/Cathedral of Hope UCC and Bethel UCC (in Houston) will serve as facilities fielding and redistributing donations to help in this effort,” said the Rev. Dan De Leon, pastor of Friends UCC.
De Leon said that while his church is about an hour’s drive to Houston, he expects volunteers will be making the trip many times over the next several months, ferrying much needed supplies.
United Church of Christ National and Conference staff, assessing those needs, will be on the ground in Houston this week to begin planning for long-term recovery. Disaster Ministries Executive Zach Wolgemuth said his office has approved a solidarity grant to send financial support to a food pantry at St. Paul United Church of Christ of Corpus Christi and is already coordinating a clean-up bucket shipment to Corpus Christi with distribution in hard-hit Port Aransas. Those 200 cleanup buckets are scheduled to arrive Thursday or Friday at St. Paul.
“What we’re finding is that targeted coordinated disaster recovery work is essential,” said the Reverend Burton Bagby-Grose, pastor of St. Paul. “We are focused on clean up buckets, food and gift cards. We are working very closely with the churches in the community and the disaster recovery folks in Port Aransas to make sure the people who need the assistance are getting it. Gifts cards are important, because everybody’s needs are different. With a gift card, people can specifically get what they need.”
The Congregational Church of Austin planned to spend some time after worship on Sunday Sept. 3 putting together Hurricane Survivor Kits, which will be taken to the Austin Disaster Relief Network, a local organization of 175 churches in the community working together to help the people in their state who are beginning the difficult task of rebuilding their lives.
Rev. Scott Martin, pastor of Faith United Church of Christ, in New Braunfels, Texas, has started an application for a $250 matching grant from the UCC to help fund the assembly of Church World Service (CWS) Clean Up Kits. He said whether or not he completes the application, he’s still challenging his congregation to fill 20 buckets.
“Last Sunday we went ahead and had church, not a huge turnout, 28 people in church,” Martin said. “We started raising money for the UCC Emergency USA fund, then went out and I made an executive decision and said we’d fill 20 CWS buckets.”
He bought 20 buckets, and lined them up in the church chancel. “We sent out an email to all church members with a picture of the buckets and list of items to go in, and asked people to bring items or cash donation to fill the buckets. Then we’ll take the buckets to the CWS office in Austin, and CWS will distribute them to people that need them.”
Martin is also hoping to drive to Houston for a meeting with Conference leaders and Disaster Ministries staff later this week, “if we don’t run out of gas. We were on the good side of the hurricane and didn’t have so many effects. Before Sunday (Aug. 24) we had 7-8″ rain and up to 50mph winds, tree damage, lost a few shingles off the roof. On Sunday morning it spit rain, Sunday afternoon the sun came out. 50 miles east of us got 20″ inches or more.”
Wolgemuth is planning to spend much of the week meeting with Longbottom, Lopez and area pastors, documenting the response necessary to get people back in their homes. Faith UCC’s commitment of 20 buckets, which at $75 each, will be a $1,500 gift to his fellow Texans.
“Why do this? I think as we’ve seen the amazing response from all kinds of people,” Martin said. “People want to do something to help citizens along the coast. Everyone’s been to Rockport or Houston, many have relatives there, we have sister churches across the region, connections there, you can’t help but be moved by those incredible scenes we’ve seen. Personally we want to help the least of these in a time of need.”
So do folks from across the wider church, who have been reaching out to their brothers and sisters in Texas. Something that is not going unnoticed, and is very much appreciated.
As of this morning, more than $112,000 has been donated to the Emergency USA fund for Harvey relief.
“In the South Central Conference, we are so grateful for the outpouring of support from the wider UCC,” De Leon said. “Earlier this week, we received a phone call from Rev. Bill Hoch, Pastor of Peace UCC in Denver, Pa., saying that his congregation wants to donate clean-up buckets to help with the recovery effort, but they don’t know where to send them. It’s phone calls like that and the ideas we see posted in the comments section of UCC stories on how to help that are lifting our spirits and reminding us that we’re not alone.”
For details on UCC grants for Clean Up Buckets, products needed for assembly and how to get them into the right hands for distribution, check the UCC matching grants page.
Bookmark the UCC Harvey Disaster webpage for the latest information on recovery work.
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