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Bishop urges churches to help home state, other affected areas

 


Bishop urges churches to help home state, other affected areas

Sept. 7, 2005

By Tita Parham*

LAKELAND, Fla. (UMNS) — For Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker, the disaster that has struck the Gulf Coast has personal significance.

“It does weigh on me heavily,” said Whitaker, who leads the United Methodist Church’s Florida Annual (regional) Conference. “When you grow up in a place you have a certain feeling about it.”

That place is Mississippi. Whitaker grew up in Vicksburg, and his wife, Melba, has family in Laurel, Miss., on the coast.

Whitaker said 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.

“I lived through Hurricane Camille, and the devastation from Katrina seems even worse, which is hard to believe,” the bishop said.

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 with suggestions on how the conference can help. Whitaker said 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 center has been in contact with the American Red Cross and expects to work closely with the organization to help displaced families. The center is also waiting for more information from the United Methodist Committee on Relief, according to Whitaker.

In terms of housing families, Whitaker said there were 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.” 

Hurricane Katrina also hit South Florida Aug. 25, a few days before making landfall in Louisiana and Mississippi. Two Florida Conference case managers are assessing the damage, but much of the hurricane’s impact came in the form of flooding and downed trees. Florida is also dealing with the effects of Hurricane Dennis, which struck the northwest part of the state in July.

Whitaker said the Storm Recovery Center had 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.

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. The conferences received the funds Aug. 31, he added.

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

Like United Methodists across the country, United Methodists in Florida are already responding to the call for help. Churches 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.

UMCOR is a unit of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries. Donations to support the United Methodist response can be made online at www.methodistrelief.org and by phone at (800) 554-8583. Checks can be written to UMCOR, designated for “Hurricanes 2005 Global,” Advance No. 982523, and left in church offering plates or mailed directly to UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087-9068.

Information on providing health kits, flood buckets and other relief through UMCOR is available at http://gbgm-umc.org/umcor/kits.cfm.

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

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

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