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UMCOR grant targets 9-11 victims in Virginia

1/23/2003 News media contact: Linda Bloom · (646) 369-3759 · New York

United Methodist News Service

Some of the hidden victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks can be found along the Route One Corridor just south of Washington.

They were the minimum-wage earners who cleaned the motel rooms, served food in the restaurants, worked in the shops catering to tourists at Mount Vernon and other attractions or drove taxis to nearby Reagan National Airport. After the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center in New York, the airport closed for an extended period, re-opening on a limited basis, and the tourist trade dropped dramatically, taking jobs with it.

Rising Hope United Methodist Church, established in 1996 specifically to bring "spiritual and material relief" to the needy along the Route One Corridor, has offered help to those secondary victims. About 60 percent of its current 90 members are homeless or have been homeless at some point.

"Almost immediately, we knew that this (Sept. 11) was going to have an effect, particularly on the community we serve," the Rev. Keary Kincannon, told United Methodist News Service. What they didn't realize until later, he said, was how the attack on the Pentagon would contribute to a broader economic downturn. "There are still people coming in who relate to us that they haven't been able to find work since 9-11."

With financial assistance from the United Methodist Committee on Relief, Rising Hope and other churches and programs in Northern Virginia can continue to respond to those seeking help.

On Jan. 4, the United Methodist Church in Northern Virginia formally announced that it was receiving nearly $1 million from UMCOR's "Love in the Midst of Tragedy" fund, set up as a way for church members to respond to the Sept. 11 attacks. UMCOR's board of directors had approved the grant in October.

The Rev. Abi Foerster of the church's Alexandria District, and the Rev. Herb Brynildson, Arlington District, wrote the grant application. The two districts serve 104 churches in Northern Virginia and a regional population of almost 2 million people.

Coordinating with the interfaith office of the Fairfax County government, "we worked together in trying to bring all the necessary parties to the table," Foerster explained. The county was instrumental in assisting with statistics and documentation for the grant, she added.

It was not hard to find secondary victims among the service industry workers of the Route One Corridor. "Eighty percent of the businesses in our area are small businesses," Foerster said. "Most of the folks either lost their jobs … or had a serious cut in hours."

In addition, many of the workers were immigrants who "were experiencing a fair amount of discrimination and bias."

Six organizations will receive funding from the grant, to be allocated over a three-year period. The largest amount, $383,400, goes to Grace Ministries, a community outreach program of the church's Arlington District aimed at the Hispanic community. Its focus will be on monthly food and clothing distribution, rent assistance, job training and re-training, worship in Spanish and pastoral counseling.

The second largest allocation, $251,562, is to Rising Hope, where Laura Derby, church administrator and grant writer, noted that the number of homeless along the Route One Corridor - many living in the woods or in their cars - has jumped by 25 percent in the past four years.

"Since 9-11, that's gotten even worse," she said. The number of families coming in each week for food and clothing has increased significantly in the past few months, she added.

At the same time, Rising Hope has experienced a drastic reduction in food contributions. The UMCOR money will allow the church to purchase food when necessary, as well as hire a part-time employee to investigate and coordinate donations from food banks and other donors and recruit volunteers.

Funds also will allow Rising Hope to deal with specific client needs, Derby said, such as getting someone into the mental health system or into job training, providing needed transportation or paying for a utility bill or month's rent.

Another result of the Sept. 11 aftermath, the growing need for legal assistance to immigrants, is being addressed through the Northern Virginia Board of Missions/Immigration and Legal Services Task Force, a joint effort of the Arlington and Alexandria districts. Its grant of $162,000 will be used to provide legal counseling and representation through the Just Neighbors Ministry program.

A comprehensive post-Sept. 11 survey of immigrants along Route One showed a need for additional English-as-a-second-language classes. ESL & Immigrant Ministries, a program that provides English classes to low-income immigrants, will receive $94,230 for its work. Currently, the program has more than 300 volunteers teaching classes at 19 United Methodist churches in Northern Virginia.

Two other organizations also benefit from the UMCOR grant. B-District Hispanic Ministries, a subgroup of the Virginia Annual Conference Hispanic Task Force, will use its $48,600 allocation to provide food, medical and rent assistance to Hispanic immigrants in need. Route One Neighborhood Shalom Organization/Phoenix Rising will receive $33,400 for its weekend food program.

Foerster also works with Phoenix Rising, which was created in 2001 to address the lack of food services on weekends, when traditional community kitchens and food programs are closed. Three months after the organization's volunteers began delivering nutritious bagged meals to homeless people living along Route One, the Sept. 11 attacks occurred. Soon after, she said, the number of deliveries jumped from 50 to 120, and recipients also began asking for assistance in other ways.

UMCOR money will be used to purchase food to help supplement current donations to Phoenix Rising, to provide indigent families with printed materials about the county's social services and to offer opportunities for one-on-one case management support.

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