Bishop urges churches to help home state, others affected by Katrina

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Bishop urges churches to help home state, others affected by Katrina

Sept. 6, 2005    News media contact:  Tita Parham*    
800-282-8011     Orlando {0354}

An e-Review Feature
By Tita Parham

LAKELAND — "It does weigh on me heavily," Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker said. "When you grow up in a place you have a certain feeling about it."

CODEN, Ala. — Belt Road in Coden, Ala., is blocked along Mississippi Sound due to damage from Hurricane Katrina. Coastal roads along the Gulf of Mexico were devastated by the storm, complicating rescue and relief efforts. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose. Photo #05-228.

That place is Mississippi. Whitaker grew up in Vicksburg and says he has fond memories of visiting the state's coast and nearby New Orleans. "When I was a kid we used to go to an amusement park on Lake Pontchartrain."

Melba Whitaker, the bishop's wife, has family on the coast in Laurel, Miss. As of Sept. 2 the Whitakers had not been able to get in touch with them.

"We're hoping no news is good news," Whitaker said. "I lived through Hurricane Camille, and the devastation from Katrina seems even worse, which is hard to believe."

And it's hard to avoid seeing that devastation, played out daily and nightly on the news. Moved by those images and reports coming from affected areas, United Methodists have been contacting the conference's Storm Recovery Center (SRC) with suggestions on how the conference can help. Whitaker says all are being considered.

"We want to help, but it's not as simple as it seems," he said. "The Storm Recovery Center can't put the whole plan together until it gets more information."

The SRC has been in contact with the American Red Cross and expects to work closely with the organization to help displaced families. The SRC is also waiting for more information from the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), according to Whitaker.

In terms of housing families, Whitaker said there are several issues to consider, both from the conference's end and with other organizations.

"The American Red Cross is going to have to set up the selecting and screening process (for families needing housing)," Whitaker said. "On our end, every person we help will need case management." 

Whitaker said the SRC has case managers already working in a number of counties, helping people affected by last year's storms, but case managers would need to be recruited for some parts of the state. "The question is how we handle that," he said. "We need to give direction to churches."

The conference has already begun to respond. It sent an advance of $25,000 each to the bishops of the Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama-West Florida annual conferences to be used "in any way needed in response to Hurricane Katrina," according to Randy Casey-Rutland, the conference's treasurer.

BILOXI, Miss. — Hurricane Katrina washed away all of the pews and the carpet of Leggett Memorial United Methodist Church in Biloxi, Miss. Half the roof and the back wall of the sanctuary are all that remains. The church is on the grounds of Seashore Assembly and faces the Gulf of Mexico. A UMNS photo by Woody Woodrick. Photo #05-229.

The money was taken from available emergency funds, not from Florida storm recovery donations, which are designated for storm recovery efforts in Florida only, Casey-Rutland said, adding the conferences received the funds Aug. 31.

Several conferences did the same for the Florida Conference last year when hurricanes Charley, Frances and Jeanne hit the state, according to Whitaker.

Whitaker says churches can help now, in a similar way, by giving generously to UMCOR's "Hurricanes 2005 Global," Advance No. 982523. He's also urging churches to contact the SRC to coordinate work teams and find housing for families. The SRC is working with M.E.R.C.I., the United Methodist Disaster Response Center of North Carolina, which was authorized last week to send groups into Pascagoula, Miss. Interested teams should call the SRC, which is funneling that information to M.E.R.C.I. United Methodists can also gather supplies. UMCOR issued an emergency appeal last week for Health Kits, Flood Buckets, bottled water and blankets.

And like United Methodists across the country, United Methodists in Florida are already responding to the call for help. Within a day of receiving an e-mail from the conference communications office asking churches to share how they were helping with relief efforts, churches responded and said they are doing everything from collecting special offerings, taking truckloads of supplies to designated areas and having members prepare to house families to serving as Red Cross shelters.

"I want to thank the United Methodist Christians in Florida for their prayers of intercession for the people of the Gulf Coast and for their expressions of concern for the victims of Hurricane Katrina," Whitaker said in an e-mail message to clergy and laity last week.

How churches and members can help

There are a number of ways United Methodists can help now:

* Donate — to UMCOR Advance No. 982523, "Hurricanes 2005 Global." Contributions can be made online at, at local churches or by phone at 800-554-8583. Checks should include the Advance number and name on the memo line. Checks given at local churches should be made payable to the local church. Checks mailed directly to UMCOR at P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087-9068 should be made payable to UMCOR. Checks to support recovery in a specific region should reflect that.

* Gather supplies — The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) has issued an emergency appeal for Health Kits, Flood Buckets, bottled water and blankets. Health Kit and Flood Bucket items and packaging instructions may be found at (There is a more urgent need for Health Kits.) Items can be sent to the Florida Conference Disaster Response Depot in Madison (call to make delivery arrangements: 850-869-0882 (cell) or 850-929-4938) or UMCOR's Sager Brown Depot, P.O. Box 850, 131 Sager Brown Road, Baldwin, LA 70514-0850 (please also provide $1.00 per kit to cover distribution costs and send it to Sager Brown UMCOR Advance #982730, "Contain Your Joy").

* Organize volunteer teams — Teams wanting to work in affected areas should contact the SRC at 800-282-8011, extension 149, which is working with M.E.R.C.I. (United Methodist Disaster Response Center of North Carolina) to coordinate efforts.

* Search out housing — Churches that would like to become shelters should contact their local chapter of the American Red Cross. Individuals who know of empty buildings in Florida that can be used to house displaced families should call the SRC.

Individuals looking for family members or friends who live in affected areas should call the Salvation Army at 847-709-6700 or the American Red Cross at 800-435-7669.

A camera-ready flier "Hurricane Katrina: How to Help" is available for download from the conference Web site at It may be distributed with bulletins during worship services or at other church gatherings. The SRC can be reached at 800-282-8011, extension 149.


This article relates to Disaster Response.

*Parham managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.

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