UCC volunteer team brings hope, help to flood-ravaged Philly neighborhood
A United Church of Christ disaster recovery work team was the first to bring hope and a helping hand to a flood-damaged area of Philadelphia.
Volunteers from Shenkel UCC in Pottstown, Pa., descended on the Eastwick neighborhood in July. They were followed by a team from Lutheran churches in the Lancaster area.
Both teams are planning return mission trips. They are helping to repair homes damaged a year ago by flooding from Tropical Storm Isaias.
A California volunteer work team is in the pipeline.
Southeastern Pennsylvania Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster is partnering with UCC Disaster Ministries, Lutheran Disaster Response, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the local community organization Eastwick United, and many others to recruit volunteers to the site.
60 homes need work
The work is just getting started. The goal is to repair and rebuild 60 homes. Many more work teams are needed. Volunteer housing is available at Salt and Light, a Philadelphia congregation of the UCC and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Volunteers can stay for a day or up to a week.
Julia Menzo of Lutheran Disaster Response co-chairs SEPA VOAD’s Unmet Needs Committee with Carolyn Moseley, who chairs Eastwick United.
“Just when survivors had almost lost hope, volunteers coming in are starting to raise community spirits, and they are bringing hope,” Menzo said.
“It is typical that volunteers for rebuilding after flooding will start to be needed months after the disaster event takes place, and usually long after more recent disasters have demanded attention and compassion,” she said. “We are so grateful when volunteers from congregations like Shenkel UCC and others join us for rebuilding.”
“We have two site managers coming via the Disciples of Christ, who will each stay on site for a month,” Moore said. “This is a wonderful help. Every day is different and now moving forward with much positivity.”
‘I like to help’
Gary McDermit led Shenkel UCC volunteers for Eastwick’s first workday July 17.
“Our church is a caring church and just needs someone to organize,” McDermit said. “I stepped up because I like to help people in need. Jesus would reach out to people in need. I like to think that if I were in that same situation someone would come help me.”
The five-member work team included Shenkel UCC’s pastor, the Rev. Suzanne Spaulding.
“I like to support our church members and help people,” she said. “I like to connect with the homeowner and hear their story, what happened and how they met the challenges, and what they are hoping for from the volunteers.”
At a work site, she added, there’s always something everyone can do, regardless of skill level.
“I hope that more local churches in the greater Philadelphia area will send groups, too,” Spaulding said. “There is something satisfying to help people ‘in our own backyard.’ And with the COVID issues, it is nice to not have to travel a long way.”
The Shenkel team worked on restoring the basement of an older man rearing two grandchildren. He has lived in the house for 41 years.
“He had gutted the basement before we arrived,” McDermit said. “A new hot water heater, HVAC system and washer/dryer had been installed. The homeowner just needed a hand to complete the work.”
The Shenkel team framed up the outside walls. Then, its workday completed, it left the next step – insulation and drywall – to the next work team.
On Sunday, July 18, Shenkel team member Dan Jenkins recapped the workday in church. He said several members expressed interest in volunteering later in August or in September.
Each group does a part
On Aug. 4, a three-member Lutheran work team from Lower Susquehanna Synod Disaster Response Network picked up where the Shenkel team had left off. That network already has two more teams scheduled for Aug. 18 and 24.
“Someone always says we didn’t get as much done as we’d hoped,” said Glenn Beard, the synod’s disaster response coordinator. He organized the August 4 workday. “But a great thing about volunteering for disaster response is that each group puts some pieces in place. Eventually everything is completed.”
The Lutheran team worked on finishing framing in the basement, insulating the outside walls and ceiling, and hanging drywall on the ceiling.
“When you have an undeclared disaster, especially where typical funding is not available, you are really dependent on volunteers to help,” Beard said. “Why volunteer? It’s just a wonderful way to give back.
“I’ve seen lives changed, including people who had experienced disaster themselves. What means the most to us as people is having a place to lay down your head. To be able to give that back to someone is wonderful.”
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