Texas flood relief planned

Local churches await instruction to help victims

Two local churches are forming work teams to help to residents in southeast Texas who have lost their homes to flooding.

Volunteers from Asbury United Methodist Church and St. Peter’s Lutheran Church will work through national relief organizations to determine where the teams will provide help, pending approval from emergency management officials.

No one goes to a disaster site unaffiliated and uninvited, said Steve Ferdon, who helps direct Asbury’s Disaster Response Team known as DiRT.

Asbury teams will be working through UMCOR, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, the church’s international relief organization.

Teams from St. Peter’s Lutheran Church are being formed and will work with Samaritan’s Purse, an organization that had volunteers come to Columbus to help with relief work after the city’s 2008 flood, said Greg Patterson, who has worked on several relief trips with his wife Thecla through St. Peter’s.

Planning timing of trips

At the earliest, local volunteer teams will travel to the Houston, Texas, area later this year, then return in the spring, after the first wave of cleanup begins, Ferdon said.

Asbury hopes to put together a team of at least 20 adult volunteers to travel to the flood-stricken area in November or December, and then return sometime between late March to May.

Ferdon said local residents should recall what happened during Columbus’ flood of 2008 to remember why it is crucial for volunteers to arrive months after the disaster.

The first month or so after water recedes, property owners scramble to clean out their flood-damage homes, get assessments and try to determine how they are going to repair their homes, he said.

“They become emotionally tired, physically tired,” he said. “That’s when people like us come in from around the country. We come in and we work.”

Patterson said St. Peter’s is thinking about a week in mid-October to do its relief trip, working with Samaritan’s Purse to schedule where and what the team will be doing.

Samaritan’s Purse volunteers came to Columbus in 2008 to help local residents, something St. Peter’s volunteers remember, he said. The national relief organization provides semi trailers full of every tool imaginable to help the work crews in their mission.

Ferdon said most of the teams will be helping families that have flooded-out homes that don’t have insurance and do not have enough resources to even begin a repair or renovation.

Crews will “muck out” the homes, taking them down to the studs and allowing the structure to dry out, he said. Then the Asbury teams will return in the spring and put the homes back together again — one doing drywall, another doing roofing — as the repairs are done in stages.

“It’s not for the faint of heart,” Ferdon said of the work, saying it is physically demanding and stressful.

Workers will be picking up and moving heavy objects, moldy materials and other debris, Ferdon said. They will become familiar with using a shovel and chain saws, he said.

The teams have to be self-sufficient and often partner with area churches to provide lodging space, where teams utilize sleeping bags on foam mats and shower in disaster-relief shower trucks provided by FEMA, or the national relief organizations. Many churches in the disaster zone agree to feed the teams with their own resources during a team’s stay.

Patterson said Samaritan’s Purse will organize all the resources needed for St. Peter’s team, and church members have already begun contributing money that will pay for a rental van for transportation and gas and food expenses for the trip south.

Lessons to learn

For those working with UMCOR, Ferdon said volunteers must take early response team training, which he is organizing now as people sign up to be on an Asbury team.

During the training, volunteers learn what they can and cannot do at a relief site, how the chain of command works with emergency management, and how to be safe on a job site, he said.

In addition to advising residents not to plan relief trips to Houston on their own, he also advised against putting together truckloads of items and taking them to the disaster zone.

He remembers one relief effort when volunteers received a crate of taco sauce, and another — the Henryville tornado site — where a semi rolled up loaded with green beans.

“Donate money to the Red Cross,” Ferdon said of the more effective way of helping flood victims.

Patterson said he and his wife normally don’t talk about going out on relief trips.

“We feel we are serving for God and no one really knows about it,” he said.

As a seed corn salesman for Stewart Seeds, Patterson said during harvest time he’s usually talking to farmers in their harvest vehicles. But the farmers understand, as does his employer, when he wants to do mission work.

“They came here for us,” Ferdon said of the Texas volunteers who arrived in Columbus to help local residents in 2008. “That’s why we do it.”

Where to learn more

  • To learn more about UMCOR, which is the United Methodist Committee on Relief, visit umcor.org/
  • To learn more about Samaritan’s Purse, a nondenominational evangelical Christian organization providing spiritual and physical aid to hurting people around the world, visit samaritanspurse.org

To volunteer for a team

For more information about the teams from Columbus going to southeast Texas for flood relief, call:

  • Asbury United Methodist Church: 812-372-4555
  • St. Peter’s Lutheran Church: 812-372-1571
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Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.