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Texas United Methodists commit $1 million to relief

 


Texas United Methodists commit $1 million to relief

Sept. 2, 2005

A UMNS Report
By Ciona D. Rouse*

The United Methodist Church’s Texas Conference has committed to raising $1 million to feed the thousands of people fleeing to the area for shelter following Hurricane Katrina.

“We have sent an appeal out to all of our churches asking them to take up a special offering this Sunday (Sept. 4) that would come in here to the conference office for that million dollars to do as Jesus said in Matthew 25 and feed the hungry,” said Bishop Janice Riggle Huie of the church’s Houston Area.

Through online giving alone, United Methodists and others had donated more than $900,000 to the United Methodist Committee on Relief as of the afternoon of Sept. 2. Churches around the country were responding in other ways to help evacuees from the storm-stricken Gulf Coast and recovery efforts in that region.

The Texas Conference submitted a separate plea for money specifically to feed evacuees who have been streaming into the state.

Organizing with the George R. Brown Convention Center and the Hewlett-Packard Center shelters in Houston, Huie said United Methodists would volunteer to serve food in addition to contributing money for the week of Sept. 14-20. Conference volunteers will serve three meals per day and will need 240 trained servers per shift. Providing 75,000 meals a day for the week will cost $1 million.

Training for food service begins Sept. 3. Volunteers from out of state who want to help should contact the conference center at (713) 521-9383. The bishop also said volunteers would be present to the people for pastoral care.

“People want to tell their stories. They need to tell their stories. And frequently what they need is just somebody to sit and listen to them tell what has happened to them, to hear their loss, to grieve with them about what has been lost, and to offer a word of hope and healing for the future,” she said.

Susan Silvus, member of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, greeted a young woman carrying a baby when they stepped off a bus filled with Hurricane Katrina evacuees in Houston.

“I asked her how I could help her,” said Silvus, director of outreach ministries at St. Luke’s. “She handed me a package of diapers and a can of Similac, and that is all she had. All.”

Silvus and other members of her church volunteered to help relief efforts as soon as the Red Cross sent an e-mail request for help at their shelter, said the Rev. Jim Moore, pastor of St. Luke’s. Thousands of hurricane evacuees have occupied Houston’s Astrodome, arriving on buses from New Orleans. The city’s Superdome was evacuated as conditions worsened in New Orleans.

“It’s unbelievable,” Moore said. “My mother-in-law lives in a town with 7,000 people that has a bank, a doctor’s office, grocery stores and such. We have more (people) than that in the Astrodome, and we don’t have any of that there.”

Moore said plans were in place to get a Social Security office, a bank and other services in the Astrodome for the evacuees.

Houston officials expected tens of thousands of refugees to arrive in the area. Officials originally planned to house 25,000 evacuees in the Astrodome, but the arena reached capacity at less than half that number. Houston Mayor Bill White, also a member of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, opened Reliant Center convention hall to 11,000 people Sept. 2 and was seeking more space in Houston to house refugees.

Churches in the Houston area opened shelters and took in as many people as they could, providing showers, clothing, food and shelter, Huie said. Lakeview Methodist Conference Center in nearby Palestine agreed to accommodate 106 refugees from New Orleans who are mentally challenged. Lon Morris College in Jacksonville invited displaced students of Dillard University in New Orleans to attend the college with free room, board and tuition, Huie said.

The bishop said she was “overwhelmed by the United Methodist response,” recognizing that recovery will take a long time.

“This is not a sprint. It is a marathon. We are in just the first stages here,” she said.

The conference’s Web site, www.txcumc.org, maintains updates on the needs of the evacuees. The conference is collecting items such as baby formula, diapers, bottles, towels, socks and other necessary everyday items.

“There is no doubt that this is our calling and that is why we respond,” Silvus said. “This is a response from the heart of the (United) Methodist Church. I cannot express what it feels like to be a United Methodist right now.”

The United Methodist Committee on Relief organizes relief efforts for the United Methodist Church. Donations to hurricane relief can be made online at www.methodistrelief.org. Checks can be made to UMCOR, designated for “Hurricanes 2005 Global,” Advance No. 982523, and placed in church offering plates or sent directly to UMCOR, PO Box 9068, New York, NY 10087-9068. Donations are also being taken by phone at (800) 554-8583.

*Rouse is a freelance writer in Nashville, Tenn.

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

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