UCC churches provide relief during summer heatwave

July of 2023 has proven to be the hottest ever recorded, according to scientists around the globe. Records were set nearly every day of the month, and UCC churches across the country answered the need for heat relief in their communities.

The Southwest Conference, in partnership with the Heat Relief Network of Arizona and other faith-based organizations, launched an initiative to establish hydration, cooling and heat relief respite centers throughout the area. These life-saving centers served many in need, especially among the unhoused population, and are running through September. Donations are being accepted here.

More than 60 people come to the Cooling Center at First Church UCC in Phoenix every day in the summer months, says the congregation’s pastor.

Breaking records

In Phoenix, residents are suffering under the most-ever excessive heat warnings, record highs and the longest consecutive number of days at 110 degrees Fahrenheit or above — and temperatures there continue to soar. The Rev. Susan Valiquette of First Church UCC noted that the church typically sees more than 60 people in its cooling center each day, depending on the weather.

“We offer air conditioning, cold water, sandwiches and snacks, and offer wrap-around services as well,” she said. “We allow the unhoused to bring their belongings and their pets as well, which is not the case for all cooling centers.”

Recently, a shower truck was brought in, provided by the Church of the Palms, in Sun City, Arizona, offering bathing ministry to those in need. Valiquette explained that operating a center takes a lot of volunteers, and they couldn’t do this work without the support of the Arizona Faith Network.

Volunteers at First Church UCC in Phoenix, including Southwest Conference Minister the Rev. Toni Hawkins (seated at right), make sandwiches for those coming to the cooling center.

The temperatures affected millions of people — not just in the typically hot areas of the country, but across the United States. Immanuel Congregational Church of Dubuque, Iowa, opened their building for those seeking relief during a particularly hot stretch in July.

“The city asked us if we could open our doors,” said Laurie Bartolotta, the church office manager. “There isn’t a lot of home ownership in our area, and we had the air conditioning on anyway, so we were glad to do it.”

Water, coffee and even homemade cookies were available, as well as a cool spot to sit for a while.

“We may do it again before the summer is over, if we are needed,” said Bartolotta.

‘The ministry is in the offering’

Asylum Hill Congregational Church in Hartford, Conn., answered the call to offer a cooling center to the public.

Those living in the eastern area of the country have not been spared either. The Rev. Jordan Bucey, associate minister of early life at Asylum Hill Congregational Church in Hartford, Conn., said the church was contacted by the Hartford Fire Department in late July to help out during an emergency heat alert.

“We were open to the public for nine hours every day from Wednesday, July 26 to that Sunday the 30th,” she said. “Our parlor area had air conditioning, couches, cold water, Wi-Fi, snacks and TV available. While we didn’t get more than a handful of people in, we like to say the ministry is in the offering.”

Bucey said volunteers spoke up to help right away, and they were happy to be a resource.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has announced a new campaign called #SummerReady to help promote preparedness and resilience against extreme heat events throughout the summer. A webinar was recently produced by FEMA to focus on the mental health impacts of extreme heat, especially on those who are greatest at risk.

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Categories: Local Church United Church of Christ News

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