District uses e-mail to help churches, storm survivors connect



e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service
      
 

District uses e-mail to help churches, storm survivors connect

Oct. 4, 2005    News media contact:  Tita Parham*    
800-282-8011   
tparham@flumc.org     Orlando {0379}

NOTE: This is one of a series of articles on local church and district-wide Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

ORLANDO — Churches are reaching beyond themselves to respond to people affected by Hurricane Katrina, but they need to know who needs help and exactly what kind of help is required.

The Rev. Marilyn Beecher helps put those pieces together, then lets everyone know about them.

Beecher is a Church and Community Worker from the General Board of Global Ministries who is coordinating outreach efforts in the East Central District. She is also the disaster response coordinator for the district, and in that capacity, she's proving it's not only what you know, but who you know.

Beecher has been hard at work connecting disaster response coordinators, relief agencies and storm survivors with churches willing to meet people's needs. Whenever Beecher receives a request for help, she distributes it through her information pipeline — an e-mail list of 900 names from within the district.

The district includes more than 80 churches and missions, but the e-mail list has been cultivated from a variety of sources. It includes administrative assistants, disaster response coordinators, people on district mailing lists, lay leadership, laity, pastors and others.

"I think it has worked well for us," Beecher said. "It functions as a communications system to let churches know how to respond. This might be a model that would be helpful to other churches, as well."

Since an estimated 6,000 storm survivors have either permanently or temporarily relocated to Metro-Orlando's tri-county area (Osceola, Orange and Seminole counties), the immediate need for assistance is significant, and the district's churches have responded to Beecher's requests.

ORLANDO — Volunteers at St. Luke's United Methodist Church here add flood buckets to a truck headed to communities affected by Hurricane Katrina. The truck had made stops at other United Methodist churches in the East Central District to gather supplies as part of a coordinated districtwide effort. Photo by Lynette Fields, Photo #05-249.

Beecher sends an e-mail once or twice a week to keep the needs before people. She has requested and received everything from temporary housing provided by church members who have vacant apartments and, in some cases, even parsonages to supplies, trucks, drivers and volunteers. One church member offered a three-month, rent-free apartment. Another congregation offered to help a family furnish its temporary housing.

Beecher says the offers continue to pour in, and the people never disappoint. "People know there's a need, and I provide the link in helping them find the connection," she said.
 
That connection comes in the form of highly detailed e-mail messages that list not only what is needed, but what churches in the district are doing. That gives other churches ideas of their own or potential partners. The e-mails tell churches what they can do locally, in South Florida and in the Gulf Coast and where they can go for more up-to-date information.

Beecher also includes words of encouragement. "These have been difficult days as we watched first our brothers and sisters in South Florida go through Hurricane Katrina and now as we see the devastating impact the storm has had on the Gulf Coast," she said in a recent e-mail. "It is truly a time for prayer. It is also an opportunity to put our faith into action and to offer care and support for those who have lost so much."

It's just a brief glimpse into the woman who's working hard to do her part in making God's love real for those in need, even while she struggles to come to terms with what's happened to hundreds of thousands of people.

"I was very worried as the storm approached Louisiana and Mississippi and then deeply saddened to see the effects," she said. "I attended a Church and Community Workers Conference several years ago at Gulfport. Those facilities were completely blown away."

Now, Beecher continues to work hard to connect those who need to be served with those willing to serve and has never been shocked by the outstanding results.

"I wasn't surprised by the response because the need was so immediate," she said. "The massive media coverage showed us the urgency, and people responded in every way possible.  The challenge is to maintain a strong level of commitment when the television cameras go home. This will need to be a very long-term recovery, and we must stay ready to respond."

How churches and members can help

* Gather supplies for Florida and other affected statesFor Florida: Migrant workers in South Florida were hard hit by Hurricane Katrina. Florida City United Methodist Church/Florida City Hispanic Mission is collecting rice and beans, non-perishable foodstuffs, diapers, health kits, new men's blue jeans in small and medium sizes, new men's t-shirts (or clean t-shirts in good condition) and baby clothes. Call Diane Gutierrez at 305-247-0911 to arrange for delivery of items. Health kit items can be found at http://gbgm-umc.org/umcor/kits.cfm. For other states: The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) no longer needs donations of bottled water, but other items are in short supply, including health kits, school kits, new sets of twin sheets, new pillows, new blankets and new air mattresses. Health and school kit items and packaging instructions may be found at http://gbgm-umc.org/umcor/kits.cfm. Items can be sent to the Florida Conference Disaster Response Depot in Madison (call to make delivery arrangements: 850-869-0882 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"). Donations of clothing will not be accepted by either the Madison or Sager Brown depot because there are not enough volunteers to sort the clothes.

* Organize volunteer teams — Teams are needed to work in both Florida and other affected states. Those who are interested in being part of a team should contact the Florida Conference Storm Recovery Center (SRC) at 800-282-8011, extension 149.

* Donate — to UMCOR Advance No. 982523, "Hurricanes 2005 Global," or UMCOR Advance No. 901323, "Hurricane Rita" appeal. Contributions can be made online at http://www.methodistrelief.org, 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.

A camera-ready flier "Hurricanes 2005: How to Help" is available on the Florida Conference Web site at http://www.flumc.org. The SRC can be reached at 800-282-8011, extension 149.

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This article relates to Disaster Response.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.




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