Within two hours of St. Matthias Episcopal Church on Skyland Boulevard opening up as a headquarters for volunteer coordination in Tuscaloosa to help with disaster relief efforts in the wake of an EF-5 tornado, 745 people came out to lend a hand. Mobilization Chair Nancy Green said 45 congregations and 13 denominations came together under the name Compassion Coalition.
Over 200 people have died throughout the South and Southeast, as severe storms and tornadoes continue to batter the region, causing widespread damage to homes and civic infrastructure. This new wave of storms comes shortly after an earlier cluster of storms that barreled through the Southeast over the weekend of April 16. Episcopal Relief & Development has been in contact with impacted dioceses, and is working with local churches to respond in a number of locations. As the area braces for future potential bouts of severe weather, the organization encourages prayers for people who are at risk or who have suffered losses, for the families of those who have died, and for the rescue and relief teams who are working to save lives and address immediate needs.
In response to the most recent storms, Katie Mears, Program Manager for Episcopal Relief & Development’s US Disaster Program, has been in contact with the Episcopal Dioceses of Alabama and Atlanta. According to Mears, reports indicate that none of the churches in the Diocese of Atlanta were damaged, but there are a number of parishes with families who have been impacted by the storms. Several churches are involved in immediate relief efforts, including providing temporary shelter and distributing food and other necessities. Mears said, “The Diocesan Disaster Coordinator in Atlanta has been in contact, and we are waiting to see how we can be of assistance.” Mears also reported that the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama is still in the assessment phase, but that at least one church is beginning to respond to local needs. “We have been in touch and we are ready to assist them as they carry out this valuable ministry,” Mears said.
Episcopal Relief & Development is also supporting the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina (which covers the central region of the state) and two congregations in the Episcopal Diocese of East Carolina (covering the coastal region of North Carolina) as they minister to their communities in the wake of the April 16 storms.
Fourteen parishes are involved in a diocesan-wide response effort in the Diocese of North Carolina (one in Sanford and the rest in the Raleigh area), which is being coordinated through the diocesan offices. According to a report from the Diocesan House, a number of clergy and lay leaders gathered on April 26 to hear an overview of the diocese’s response to the damage so far, and its plans for moving forward. “After doing an initial assessment,” the report states, “[the Rev. Canon Michael Buerkel Hunn] advised congregations to assemble a designated team and contact the Diocese to let them know who was the best point of contact for disaster response (for the current disaster in addition to potential future events) and communicate specific projects the congregation is working on or would like to work on so that the Diocese might facilitate additional resources.” Emergency funds from Episcopal Relief & Development will be directed to the diocese for further distribution, according to the needs of the congregations involved in local disaster response.
In the Diocese of East Carolina, Episcopal Relief & Development is supporting relief efforts in two communities that suffered significant damage: Windsor, in rural Bertie County, near the coast, and Newton Grove, about 35 miles northeast of Fayetteville.
In Windsor and the surrounding rural communities, tornadoes destroyed at least 67 homes and damaged 30 others. Many people were injured, and 14 local residents were killed by the storm. Located in an impoverished and rural area of the state, Windsor is home to many who are in need of assistance.
With support from Episcopal Relief & Development, St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church in Windsor is responding to needs for basic household items, temporary shelter and pastoral care. For people whose homes were damaged or destroyed, St. Thomas is providing vouchers for the church’s thrift store and other local vendors so families can purchase clothing, school supplies and other needed items. Motel vouchers and funds for small, emergency home repairs to prevent further damage were also distributed. Connections to other congregations and social service organizations in the area helped to maximize the reach of their response effort. In addition, the church is providing pastoral care and financial assistance for funeral expenses to families who are grieving.
“After this sort of traumatic event, people deeply need spiritual support,” said Mears. “Local churches, like St. Thomas’, can provide a safe space to talk through the grief and loss that people are feeling, and the churches can also work with families to meet their immediate physical needs. Pastoral care and immediate relief ideally go hand-in-hand.”
Over a hundred miles away from Windsor, the same storm system impacted families in the town of Newton Grove. There, the local Episcopal church, La Iglesia de la Sagrada Familia, is responding to needs through its Episcopal Farmworker Ministries (EFM) program. The church is very well connected to its community through its congregation and through the network of social service agencies involved in supporting the farmworker ministry. Sagrada Familia, with help from Episcopal Relief & Development, is providing vouchers to purchase clothing, food and household supplies to people in need, as well as temporary housing assistance and support for grieving families.
For more information go to Episcopal Relief and Development