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United Methodists gear up for Missouri flood relief

The Rev. Karla Cunningham (left) and Dawn Martin discuss flood response at Asbury United Methodist Church's family life center in Foley, Mo.
UMNS photos by Susan J. Meister, UMCOR.

A UMNS Report
By Susan J. Meister*
July 10, 2008

Dawn Martin pointed out one flooded home after another in Winfield and Foley, Mo. "One of 'my kids' lives there," she said, sadly.

Missouri homes are flooded in a 13-mile stretch along the Mississippi River.

For the two weeks in June before the earthen levees failed in the river towns along the Mississippi River, residents anticipated the coming floods and packed, moved and stored as many of their possessions as possible.

Martin, youth director at nearby St. Stephen United Methodist Church in Troy, wanted to make sure the kids in her youth group got out of their homes and had a place to stay. Now that floodwaters have inundated their homes and so many others in the area, she is motivated to be part of the long-term recovery effort.

"I want to help find the families that need help but might not ask," she said. "I want to help them find the resources they need."

The United Methodist Committee on Relief, in close cooperation with the denomination’s Missouri Annual (regional) Conference, has begun the long process of recovery in the river towns of Lincoln County. The effort will draw on people like Martin as well as resources and organizations throughout the community.

Regional disaster

The flooding, about 45 miles northwest of St. Louis, occurred in late June as the Mississippi River rose above flood stage. Missouri's overflow was part of a region-wide pattern of heavy spring rains that also caused severe flooding in Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana.

Water spilled into hundreds of homes and thousands of acres of farmland in the 13-mile stretch along the river between Elsberry and Winfield. Residents were waiting for waters to recede to begin damage assessment, cleanup and repair. And, with levees no longer protecting the towns, they anxiously watched forecasts for additional heavy rains.

Jeff Baker, staff with the Missouri Conference Office of Creative Ministries, is ready to deploy volunteers when the time is right. "Because this area has been declared for (FEMA) individual assistance, we don't want to just run in and help because we could jeopardize the families' ability to receive funds," he said. "When the long-term recovery committee is in place, we will begin asking for volunteers in mission to help rebuild."

Long-term recovery

In the meantime, Martin, Baker and others are cooperating with Sts. Joachim and Ann Care Service, the lead agency for long-term recovery in Lincoln, St. Charles, Warren, Montgomery and Pike counties. Sts. Joachim and Ann has a long association with UMCOR, most recently as one of the agencies funded by Katrina Aid Today, a case-management program that helped local families displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

“When the long-term recovery committee is in place, we will begin asking for volunteers in mission to help rebuild.”
–Jeff Baker
"Lincoln County was the most affected (by recent flooding)," said Miriam Mahan, executive director. "We are educating all the officials and organizations. Things are coming together beautifully. We are meeting with the 'movers and shakers' in the community, recruiting volunteer case managers, and finding places to distribute food and cleaning supplies."

As long-term recovery begins, the work of case managers is critical as they encourage families to register with FEMA and other agencies to access assistance. They help connect those affected with resources and volunteer labor.

UMCOR is recognized as the leader in the techniques of disaster case management. Karen Benson, Missouri Conference disaster response coordinator, will conduct the first training class for case managers in Hannibal on July 12.

Connecting and responding

"Of course I had heard of UMCOR, but I didn't realize how the connectional system worked until the floods," Martin said. "Within two hours, nearby United Methodist churches delivered 350 meals to sandbagging crews. And UMCOR is so respected in disaster response circles. It is amazing."

"Missouri is following a proven path of local response with UMCOR partnership," said the Rev. Tom Hazelwood, executive for domestic disaster response. "UMCOR brings money, consultation, training and volunteer coordination to the table.

"While other volunteer organizations focus on rescue and initial relief, UMCOR takes a holistic approach that tries to touch people's lives throughout the process. United Methodists are involved in everything from delivering meals, to helping with sandbags beforehand to mucking out the houses and focusing on long-term recovery after the disaster."

Donations to help those affected by floods can be made to UMCOR Advance #901670, Domestic Disaster Response, Midwest Floods. Drop checks in church offering plates or mail them directly to UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087. Write Advance #901670 Midwest Flooding Relief on the memo line. Credit-card donations can be made by calling (800) 554-8583 or online at www.givetomission.org.

Up to 10 percent of gifts for Midwest flooding may be used to repair United Methodist churches and their facilities that were not insured for catastrophic losses.

*Meister is domestic disaster response correspondent for UMCOR.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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