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West Tennessee United Methodists offer compassion to evacuees

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Web-only photo by Jo Ellen Druelinger

Jonathan Coleman delivers supplies to the SOS (Service Over Self) center in Memphis.
Sept. 1, 2005

By Cathy Farmer*

JACKSON, Tenn. (UMNS) — From securing post-surgical medical treatment to housing, feeding and clothing the 35 members of one refugee family, United Methodists throughout the Memphis Annual (regional) Conference are opening their hearts and doors to the distraught victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Brownsville, Tenn.

In Brownsville, more than 115 men, women and children are staying in local motels. Most have no more than the clothes they grabbed as they fled their homes, a few treasured photos, home videos and their wedding certificates.

Monique Florane is one of those survivors. The Slidell, La. native traveled in a crowded car with her four children and extended family for a 14-hour trip to Tennessee, even as she was recuperating from surgery.

“I wasn’t supposed to get out of bed,” said Florane, pale and shaken, cradling the drainage tubes issuing from her stomach. “I was so grateful when United Methodists took me to the doctor to see about getting these tubes removed.” The doctor advised waiting 24 hours.

Florane says she’s lucky. She knows that her husband is sill alive, even though she doesn’t know his exact location. He is an offshore boat captain, so he still has a job.

Sammy Tillman, minister of worship at First United Methodist Church in Brownsville, says the church will help Florane and her family to reach Houston where they plan to stay with relatives. “We’re providing them with gas money, clothes, and paying for their stay here at the motel until they can leave,” Tillman said.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
Web-only photo by Jo Ellen Druelinger

Refugees from Hurricane Katrina receive tickets for free dinners at the SOS (Service Over Self) center in Memphis, Tn.
On Wednesday night, all of the evacuees were bused to Union Grove United Methodist Church for supper. Then, while the parents met with Red Cross representatives, the children were taken to Brownsville First to watch movies.

“The parents asked us to take the kids somewhere else,” Tillman said. “They’ve been brave for the children up to now, but they really needed time alone to cry.”

The Haywood County community is rallying around the evacuees. Volunteers have stocked the West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center, located across the street from the motels, with food, toys, games and snacks.

Cathe Butler, executive director of the center, said the evacuees have been able to get whatever they need. “It’s a joy giving to these people,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve ever been as happy and as sad at one time.”

Butler said she and the Rev. Cecil Bellew, the Brownsville district superintendent, worked all day Tuesday trying to find free places for the evacuees to live. Among those is the SOS (Service Over Self) Center in Memphis.

Memphis, Tenn.

More than 100 evacuees found shelter at SOS, a ministry of Christ United Methodist Church to house teams that come to Memphis to help rebuild neighborhoods.

Members of Christ Church provided linens and planned to “adopt" SOS for a night to feed the families and to stay overnight in the building as hosts. “I’m helping deliver all that our church members are bringing,” Sue Fouse, a Christ Church volunteer, said. “I wanted to do, and God has provided a way.”

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
Web-only photo by Cathy Farmer

Daphne Moses helps members of the Cole family check clothing sizes. Thirty-five members of the family fled to Jackson, Tenn., after Hurricane Katrina destroyed their homes in Louisiana.
Christ Church welcomed 63 hurricane evacuees to its Wednesday night supper after members extended invitations for a free meal and delivered the flyers to area hotels.

Other United Methodist churches have stepped forward to house evacuees.

Germantown United Methodist Church will open its doors to approximately 20 people from the Gulf Coast. Other churches in the Memphis area offering shelter include Bartlett, Millington and Scenic Hills United Methodist churches. Highland Heights United Methodist Church is housing families of patients admitted to Baptist Hospital. Several other churches are providing food for evacuees.

The Rev. Rick Kirchoff, Germantown senior pastor, said the church also sent word to hotels nearby that they are housing evacuees. “We’re planning recreation opportunities and pot luck meals for families cooped up in hotels. We’re also setting up to help folks who are in transit with gas and coupons for meals.”

The church will also support members who have opened their homes to relatives and friends. “This is going to be a long haul crisis. We are just beginning!,” Kirchoff said.

The Wesley Housing Corporation may also offer long tem shelter.

According to Selena Henson, president of the Wesley Senior Ministries Foundation, the Department of Housing and Urban Development contacted Ron Budynas, Wesley’s director of housing, wanting to know how many vacant apartments were available.

“They were checking for the displaced folks from Section 8 Housing in New Orleans,” Henson said. “Ron told them we have apartments available, and we would be willing to help. At this point, we are just waiting to hear back.”

“If they come,” she continued, “most will come with only the clothes on their backs. We will need help with food, clothes, medicine and basic furniture.” The apartments are unfurnished.

Jackson, Tenn.

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Web-only photo by Cathy Farmer

Inez Cole and 34 members of her family are being aided by Memphis churches, after they fled Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina.
Inez Cole left Seminole Parish, La., in a caravan of nine cars with 35 family members. She hopes to find somewhere for her family to live until they can go home. They know it won’t be soon. An uncle who lives in Monroe, La., boated over to their neighborhood to assess the damage. “He said our houses were completely underwater and that bodies were floating all around,” she said.

Cole and her family are fast running out of money. Many of them are ill: four are diabetics, one has seizures, and another has emphysema.

“We only have two more nights paid for at the motel here in Jackson,” she explained.
Local churches are working ecumenically to help the Cole family. Daphne Moses, Volunteers in Mission coordinator for the Memphis conference, noted clothing sizes and asked members of Northside United Methodist Church to gather what was needed. Baptists agreed to fill prescriptions.

Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church offered to fix lunch at the church for the family on Saturday.

“At least they’ll have somewhere to go on Labor Day weekend,” said the Rev. Roger Hopson, director of program ministries for the Memphis Conference.

Going to God in prayer

The United Methodist Church is helping find solutions for thousands of evacuees fleeing the devastated Gulf Coast. Prayer services are being held in churches across the nation. Prayer means a lot to the survivors of the hurricane. The first thing Monique Florane requested was prayer.

*Cathy Farmer is director of communications for the Memphis Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or

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