For Louisiana’s new United Methodist bishop, the work starts immediately.
Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey, who with the arrival of September begins a four-year term as episcopal leader for the Louisiana Annual Conference, was in the process of moving to Baton Rouge late this week and expected to begin touring storm-damaged areas almost immediately.
“This is not exactly how I had hoped to introduce myself to each of you,” she said in a letter written to Methodist pastors before Hurricane Issac arrived on Wednesday. “My prayers are with each of you, your families and each member of your congregation during this time.”
Harvey brings to Louisiana, years of experience in disaster response. She has come to Louisiana from New York City where as deputy general secretary she led the United Methodist Committee on Relief.
“She is just going to be a wonderful asset and understands this process so well,” said conference Communications Director Betty Backstrom, who was to be going with the bishop and other church officials to assess damage.
While Isaac, unlike Hurricane Katrina, didn’t bring to Baton Rouge churches a huge population of people needing immediate places to stay, the storm has left behind great needs and many faith groups will be raising donations, recruiting volunteers and preparing to help with the relief and rebuilding efforts.
“I think we are pretty much agreeing that Katrina was much more severe, but there was an awful lot of flood damage” from Isaac, Backstrom said.
Some faith-based relief work is under way. For example, university students involved with the LSU Wesley Foundation planned to help unload supplies Friday at United Methodist HOPE Ministries and volunteers with Healing Place Church were meeting at 9 a.m. Friday and Saturday to deploy for relief work.
But Catholics, Methodists, Baptists and other faith groups were also preparing for the long-term.
David Aguillard, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Baton Rouge, and Carol Spruell, communications director for the agency, talked about the challenges in a news release sent out Thursday.
“When the national news crews leave, that’s really when the hard work begins,” Aguillard said. “The needs are often greater months after disaster. FEMA and insurance settlements can only go so far for people who have lost everything.”
Catholic Charities is accepting donations on its website: http://www.catholiccharitiesbr.org.
The Louisiana Baptist Convention, http://www.lbc.org, is also using the Internet to collect donations for the relief work.
“It’s heartwarming to receive support from all over the country when Louisiana is in the headlines,” said Spruell, who is frequently deployed to help other Catholic Charities USA member agencies respond to disasters in their area. “We could not do the work we do without those financial donations, volunteers and material goods.”
Spruell suggested that those who want to help, should contact their churches or similar agencies to find out about volunteer opportunities as well as what types of donations are needed.
Don’t self-deploy into a disaster area, she warned. Spruell also cautioned that care is needed with donations, too.
While monetary donations are always helpful, potential donors should research an agency’s needs before donating supplies, she said.
For instance, during the immediate aftermath of a disaster, Catholic Charities accepts specific items such as toiletries and new clothing, particularly socks and underwear.
“For a man who has lost everything,” said Spruell, “an unopened package of new socks could be treasured.”
But not all clothing donations are welcomed.
“A lot of people’s first instinct is to clean out their closets and send us their used clothing,” Spruell said, “but those donations consume volunteer time and precious warehouse space.”
And remember, Spruell said, that once the immediate aftermath has passed there are still needs and still opportunities to volunteer and donate.
Find out what people and agencies need and “get creative,” she said. “Hold a shower-type event. Host a party and ask your guests to donate everything a family needs to set up a new house, from the toaster to towels to yard tools.”
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