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Disaster response includes prayers, collections, volunteering, organizing

Congregations respond through many networks

In response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, area congregations are sending donations through their faith networks, many of which work collaboratively through InterAction, a coalition of 160 U.S.-based private relief, international development and refugee assistance organizations that abide by a set of standards to assure accountability to donors and quality service.

There is information on those agencies at

While many are sending funds, others are collecting material goods and sending them by mail or truck.

Heavy media coverage has brought a surge of response.  The following reports from people in the Inland Northwest give an overview of the types of response from communities of faith.

Praying, giving donations, delivering necessities, sheltering people, rescuing people, resettling people, rebuilding lives and caregiving are typical responses from people of faith.

Salvation Army reports high giving

Donations flow into the Salvation Army by mail, in person, online and by phone, said Christy Markham, development director.

By Sept. 14, the Washington, North Idaho and Western Montana division received 13,693 gifts, totaling $2,476,718, more than for Sept. 11 or tsunami relief.

“The closer a disaster hits to home, the more people there are affected and the more people see the disaster in the media, the more they are likely to respond.  There was heavy coverage the first weeks,” she said, “but we still are receiving gifts every day. Some give general gifts.  Others designate for the disaster.”

Christy, who grew up in Coeur d’Alene, said if people cannot afford to give now, they may give for future needs:  “New problems emerge every day, such as with Hurricane Rita, and the Salvation Army will remain in affected areas as long as needed.  We are still assisting victims of Hurricane Dennis earlier this year and four hurricanes that struck Florida in 2004.

“We work with other national and community agencies.  First, we meet immediate needs and help people to safety.  Then we help people find assistance and line up jobs,” she said.

The Salvation Army is using food, clothes and material goods received locally for evacuees who come here.  They encourage people who want to help people in the Gulf area to hold garage sales and send the proceeds.

“Media helped us inform people that the need is for cash, not material aid,” said Christy.

For information, call 325-6810.

Richland pastor leads preparedness training

Knowing disasters happen any time, the Rev. Stephen Eriksen of Shalom United Church of Christ in Richland, is available to train churches in disaster relief and preparedness.

Stephen Eriksen

Stephen Eriksen shows a crank-powered radio for disasters.

He is involved with the Washington Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters.

Hurricane Katrina confirms his belief that churches should be prepared to respond to possible disasters in the Northwest—farm chemical explosions, drought, blackouts, extreme cold, radiation fallout, dust storms, shipping disasters, fog and smog episodes, toxic waste in landfills or train derailments.

“From when the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) began in 1964 up to 1998, nearly 1,200 disasters tapped FEMA funds,” he said.

First responders, he said, are police, fire fighters, medical services and the National Guard.  Second responders are the Red Cross and Salvation Army, providing temporary shelter and food.  Third responders are local churches and communities involved in rebuilding and long-term recovery, including spiritual, psychological and physical needs.

Eriksen urges churches to have disaster plans—so members help each other and neighbors, manage donations and respond to vulnerable, grieving people.

He suggested some spiritual care guidelines:

• Caregivers need to assure people when they are safe, so they can begin to restore trust.

• Caregivers need to be good listeners, letting people tell their stories and ventilate their anger. 

• Caregivers need to practice hospitality and remember it’s not possible to fix everything.

• Caregivers need to take care of themselves and pray regularly.

Steve suggests churches hold yard sales and send money.  Children can make health, baby or school kits to send through Church World Service any time, before or after disasters, so they are ready for the next disaster.

“Everyone can do something,” Eriksen said, adding that youth can use computers to scan photos for church families, keeping a copy on a CD at the church.  “Then families won’t worry about saving photos during a disaster.”

For information, call 943-3927.

Catholic Charities resettles some families

Hurricane response from Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Spokane took a personal turn when it began helping resettle five families in Spokane, said Scott Cooper, director of Parish Social Ministries.

A Cuban father and son, who lived in New Orleans, are being housed temporarily at Immaculate Heart Retreat Center. A mother and two teen boys are in the Riverside area.  A mother with three children is in the Spokane Valley.  Some who come have family or friends in the area. 

“With most evacuees in immediate rings of the area, some may begin to move to farther, non-affected areas.  We expect to take a few families at a time, as a psychological shift progresses from expecting to return soon to wondering if some will ever go back.

“As people learn of successful relocations, more will consider that option,” he said.

Scott said the diocese first told people to send donations directly to Catholic Charities USA, to avoid double bookkeeping.  St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Spokane Valley collected $10,000 on Labor Day weekend.  Now some donations are being accepted locally to assist with families who relocate here.

“Media coverage has made people aware of poverty, at least for a fleeting moment.  With the focus on localized poverty in New Orleans and the South, I have not seen that Katrina coverage raised overall awareness about poverty across the country,” he said.

“At least it rose to the top of the news and public dialogue for a while.  We can see the power of the media to raise concerns and make money flow,” said Scott.

He believes people will begin to connect concern about poverty to federal proposals to cut $35 billion in health care, food and other social services, and to retain tax cuts.

“How will we pay for up to $200 billion?  Many are saying the proposed tax and service cuts must be delayed or modified,” Scott said.

He anticipates there will be linking of parishes and dioceses to rebuild churches.  In the Diocese of Biloxi, Miss., every church has reported some damage or outright destruction of its building.

For information, call 358-4273.

Church World Service fills gaps, aids those overlooked

Church World Service regional director Lynn Magnuson in Seattle has had many calls from people wanting to know what they can do.  Church World Service is the relief, development and refugee assistance ministry of 36 Protestant, Orthodox and Anglican denominations in the United States.

“We are organizing local faith communities for interfaith, cooperative action in both immediate relief and long-term recovery,” she said.  “Ecumenical agencies, churches and faith groups in states affected are forming regional interfaith disaster response efforts, networking with people who want to help rebuild.

“Nationally, we sent 10,000 health kits and light-weight blankets, so we need churches to supply more,” she said.

Lynn expects that many churches will work through their denominations to partner with churches in the Gulf Coast area, to help with rebuilding buildings and lives. CWS is forming partnerships with small denominations and independent churches, particularly in poor, rural areas.  Working through CROP Walk committees, it is aiding evacuees and people in their homes.  In coming months, she expects evacuees will need housing, and those who return will need help rebuilding.

CWS is coordinating with FEMA and the Red Cross, who refer people forgotten by other programs.  Lynn said power and services will first be restored in urban areas where there are more people.  It may be months to restore services in rural areas.

When headlines fade, CWS will still be present in recovery efforts, just as it continues to help communities affected by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake-tsunami rebuild schools, houses, clinics and livelihoods, said Lynn.  Local faith-based organizations work with Washington VOADs to support families running out of money.  They need resources, too. 

For information, visit and the websites, or call 888-297-2767.

Pastor connects with Baton Rouge church
Olyvia Manning

Olyvia Manning prepares box.

At an initial meeting of the Spokane Katrina Coalition, Pastor Otis Manning of the Word of Faith Christian Center said pastors decided to contact their church networks to learn of needs of churches along the Gulf Coast.

Through the national 400-church Fellowship of Inner City Word of Faith Ministries, he called Pastor Lynn Norrison, Jr., at a church in Baton Rouge.

When Pastor Otis learned the population of Baton Rouge had doubled overnight, he figured it was a needy city. 

He also learned first response agencies are active in urban areas, but have overlooked needs in rural areas.  He expects churches will fill in the holes.

“Pastor Lynn said shelters were crammed and people were living in their cars and in parks,” he said.  “He requested several items for people in a shelter.”

So members at Word of Faith Center began collecting personal hygiene items, diapers, bottled water, clothing and other items to pack in boxes and send by mail.  Olyvia Manning, his 11-year-old daughter, helped pack items.

Jean Farmer, director of Northeast Community Center, learned what they were doing, and spread the word, contacting Shaw Middle School, which decided to have a drive for material goods to send through the Spokane church to the church in Baton Rouge.

Pastor Otis came to Spokane in 1985 and worked in evangelistic ministry, helping ex-offenders, before starting the congregation five years ago.

For information, cal 891-5253.

Pastors coordinate volunteer organizations

The Rev. Phyllis Todd, president of the Inland Northwest Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster for 12 years, keeps up with statewide efforts and United Methodist Committee on Relief efforts to send cleanup and health kits. 

She said thousands of kits have gone from the area to the national warehouse in Sager Brown, La.

“When FEMA and the Red Cross complete emergency relief, Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters pick up, said Phyllis, a disaster response leader for the Pacific Northwest United Methodist Annual Conference with the Rev. George Abrams of Cheney United Methodist Church.

“We encourage communities to form Community Organizations Active in Disasters—as Benton City did after a hail storm—to prepare people to respond in disasters such as forest fires, floods and wind in our area,” Phyllis said.  “With TV in our living rooms, people feel akin to those suffering, aware that what happened to them could happen to anyone.”

The disaster brings together a mix of people to work on common efforts. Her Rotary Club will help Shaw Middle School collect items for Word of Faith Christian Center to send to a church in Baton Rouge.

Area United Methodist churches are helping a Volunteers in Ministry team from Blaine UMC go to Sager Brown, La., with a truck of health kits, school kits, blankets, air mattresses, heavy gloves, chain saws and diapers. 

The drop-off is Spokane Highland Park UMC, 611 S. Garfield, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Oct. 12 to 15, and 17.  The district office seeks volunteers to load the truck. 

For information, call 535-2687.

Churches join in Convoy of Hope

John Tusant of the Greater Spokane Association of Evangelicals is referring people to the Convoy of Hope at Valley Assembly of God.  They collected goods and new clothing until Sept. 25 to fill a truck that joined a convoy from the West Coast to the Gulf Coast.

“This is an opportunity for residents to reach out by sending diapers, peanut butter, canned soup, tools to clear the debris and pillows and air mattresses for those rebuilding,” said organizer Michelle Busick.

She and her husband, Steve, at Fairchild Air Force Base, helped with a similar effort in 1996 in Sumter, S.C., after Hurricane Fran hit Virginia.  The Convoy of Hope, now a national organization, has delivered nine million pounds of relief supplies to areas of Louisiana and Mississippi.

For information, call 487-7429.

By Mary Stamp - Copyright © October 2005 - The Fig Tree