Newsline Extra for September 17, 2008

“Celebrating the Church of the Brethren’s 300th Anniversary in 2008”

“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me” (Matthew 18:5).

1) Children’s Disaster Services cares for children displaced by Ike.
2) Rapid response team helps families affected by Metrolink crash.
3) Material Resources program ships supplies to hurricane survivors.
4) Church World Service aids hurricane survivors in Haiti.
5) How Brethren can help with the disaster response effort.

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1) Children’s Disaster Services cares for children displaced by Ike.

Children’s Disaster Services is responding to Hurricane Ike, with 26 childcare volunteers working in shelters in Texas. A rapid response team from Children’s Disaster Services also has cared for children following the train wreck in California (see story below).

Children’s Disaster Services is a program of the Church of the Brethren Disaster Ministries. It is the oldest and largest nationwide organization specializing in children’s disaster related needs, established in 1980 ( Children’s Disaster Services sets up child care centers at the invitation of the American Red Cross and FEMA, using teams of trained and certified childcare volunteers. Most recently, Children’s Disaster Services responded to Hurricane Gustav, when childcare volunteers worked in four American Red Cross “super shelters” in Louisiana and Mississippi.

“We have some highly qualified people out in Houston. More are needed,” reported Judy Bezon, director of Children’s Disaster Services. As of Sept. 16, 26 volunteers were caring for children in shelters in Texas. Project managers for the Hurricane Ike response are Children’s Disaster Services volunteers Jean Myers and Sheryl Faus.

The largest shelter where Children’s Disaster Services is currently serving children and families is the George Brown Convention Center in Houston, with over 5,000 guests last night, said Roy Winter, executive director of Brethren Disaster Ministries. Additional shelters are being served in the area, and a team of childcare volunteers is being sent to San Antonio, another larger shelter with over 2,000 evacuees, he said.

The response to Hurricane Ike has been very good, Winter said, because Children’s Disaster Services already had its phone tree activated for Hurricane Gustav and volunteers were alerted and ready to go immediately. The people being served are in a different situation than those served following Gustav, however, he added. This time around, he said, “we are working with the longterm shelters, people who will be unable to return home for quite some time.”

2) Rapid response team helps families affected by Metrolink crash.

When Gloria Cooper, a volunteer with Children’s Disaster Services who lives in Pasadena, Calif., heard about the train crash, she immediately called Laura Palmer, coordinator of the program’s Rapid Response Team in southern California.

According to news reports, 25 people died and 135 were injured in the train crash on Friday, Sept. 12, in which a Metrolink commuter train collided with a Union Pacific freight train in Chatsworth, Calif.

The two women quickly realized that children would be accompanying their families to the Reunification Center that had been set up at Chatsworth High School for those with loved ones in the train. The children would need a child-friendly place to be while family members waited anxiously for news.

After trying to reach the American Red Cross without success, Cooper went to the Reunification Center in person to offer services for the children. She arrived at 7:30 a.m. Saturday morning, and Children’s Disaster Services was invited to set up a center for the children.

“The night shift nurse (at the center) was full of praise for our program,” Cooper said in her report. The nurse had seen Children’s Disaster Services volunteers in action at shelters following an apartment fire in East Los Angeles, and told a gathered group of American Red Cross staff how valuable and needed the childcare was, Cooper said. The American Red Cross shift managers also knew of the program. “We had worked with these staff members on the Alaska Air responses,” Cooper said.

In the meantime, Palmer put a Children’s Disaster Services volunteer team on alert and they were ready to respond. By 10:30 a.m. Saturday, three additional volunteers were at the Reunification Center ready to work with children–Mary Kay Ogden, Sharon Sparks, and Rhoda Lau.

The volunteers cared for three young children in the childcare area that they set up in the center, and played ball with two older boys who were outside the childcare area. The team also encouraged the turning down of loud television announcements about the disaster, which were in hearing range of the children.

“There were some very negative press conferences regarding the incident being broadcast,” Cooper reported. “Many of the people waiting at this time after the event hadn’t quite cognated the most likely information that they would receive, that their loved one was dead. In our first ARC staff meeting this loud TV coverage was identified as not being helpful…. They subsequently turned the TV down very low and only turned it up slightly for Metro debriefings.”

In the afternoon, Willard and Letha Ressler were the lead caregivers, and the team was fortunate to have Spanish-speaking volunteer Rachael Contrares present as well. Contreras was able to speak with one Hispanic family that had been waiting a particularly long time. “Rachael’s ability to be present to this family was sensitive and supportive,” Cooper said. Later, team members Laura Palmer and Sharon Gilbert arrived to lend a hand.

The Reunification Center closed at 6 p.m. on Saturday, and the Children’s Disaster Services team found a place to debrief. Gilbert is a clinician on the program’s Critical Response Team that responds to air disasters, and conducted the debriefing. She helped volunteers process and understand their reactions to the disaster and to the work they did with children affected by it.

“Few people realize how critical it is to have this support, and we were fortunate to have Gilbert to guide the volunteers through it,” said Judy Bezon, director of Children’s Disaster Ministries.

3) Material Resources program ships supplies to hurricane survivors.

“In response to Hurricane Gustav we loaded a trailer Friday night destined for Hammond, La.,” reported Loretta Wolf, director of the Church of the Brethren’s Material Resources program. “The trailer started in Harrisburg, Pa., picking up 1,008 Emergency Clean-Up Bucket Kits and stopping in New Windsor to add 624 more clean-up kits.”

The Material Resources program is a Church of the Brethren ministry located at the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Md. The Material Resources staff process, warehouse, and distribute disaster relief materials on behalf of a variety of ecumenical partners including Church World Service (CWS).

The shipment of Emergency Clean-Up Bucket Kits responding to Gustav “used all the kits we have on hand,” Wolf said. She encourages congregations, groups, and individuals to donate the urgently needed CWS Emergency Clean-Up Bucket Kits. Information is online at for assembling the kits. The buckets provide cleaning supplies for people to clean up their homes following floods and other disasters.

In other shipments related to the recent hurricanes, CWS Hygiene Kits were shipped to a number of locations in Louisiana in response to Gustav, including Donaldsonville, Point Couppee, Baton Rouge, Denham Springs, Pierre Part, and Thibodoux. “One small request was received from Nacogdoches, Texas, to send two bales of blankets and one carton of Hygiene Kits related to Hurricane Ike,” Wolf said. “It is likely additional shipments will go out this week once needs are assessed.”

Other recent Material Resources work has included a shipment on behalf of Lutheran World Relief (LWR) to Azerbaijan; an LWR shipment to Tanzania; a 40-foot container of supplies to Georgia as a cooperative effort of LWR and International Orthodox Christian Charities; a shipment to Jordan on behalf of International Orthodox Christian Charities; a shipment on behalf of IMA World Health to Armenia; domestic CWS shipments to respond to flooding in Iowa, Wisconsin, Texas, and Alaska; CWS supplies sent to New York for use with migrant farm workers; and CWS supplies for homeless shelters in Minnesota and New Mexico.

4) Church World Service aids hurricane survivors in Haiti.

As a powerful Hurricane Ike roils toward the Texas coast after hitting Cuba, Haiti, and other parts of the Caribbean, humanitarian agency Church World Service (CWS) announced it had already sent an initial $10,000 rapid response grant to its partner in Haiti. The partner agency is SKDE (Sant Kretyen Pou Developman Entegre), the Christian Center for Integrated Development.

CWS also announced that it is expediting a shipment of CWS Blankets, Baby Kits, and Hygiene Kits to be distributed in Haiti by humanitarian agency partners who are members of Action by Churches Together.

Four storms have lashed Haiti in recent weeks, resulting in what CWS partner Christian Aid described as possibly “lasting damage to Haiti’s ‘rice bowl,” according to the CWS release. The “rice bowl” is a farming area whose revival is key to Haiti’s struggle in overcoming its current food crisis. CWS and Christian Aid said it is expected that as many as 4 million Haitians will be in dire need of food in the midst of a still-active hurricane season. Haiti hasn’t experienced hurricane damage of this magnitude since 2004, when Hurricane Jeanne essentially destroyed Gonaives and killed more than 3,000 people, the release said.

From Cuba, CWS received an initial material aid request from its church partner Iglesia Bando Evangelica Gedeon. CWS Emergency Response director Donna Derr said the agency is prepared and can respond to Cuban survivors’ needs, through the material resource provision of the license CWS holds from the US Department of State.

Other CWS partners and colleagues in the Dominican Republic, and the Turks and Caicos Islands have managed to deliver some reports, but information has been limited, CWS said. The Cuban church partner said the damage from Hurricane Gustav had made the situation in the country “very difficult,” and that Hurricane Ike heaped insult on injury. In eastern Cuba, a network of volunteers from Cuban churches who are trained in psychosocial support and counseling are working with affected families and communities.

“The combined devastation from these storms is stunning,” said Derr.

The Church of the Brethren contributes to Church World Service disaster relief through grants from the denomination’s Emergency Disaster Fund. Send donations to the Emergency Disaster Fund, Church of the Brethren, 1451 Dundee Ave., Elgin, IL 60120.

5) How Brethren can help with the disaster response effort.

Brethren Disaster Ministries staff have suggested the following ways church members and congregations can help in the response to the recent hurricanes and other disasters:

  • Support families who have had to flee their homes with prayer, and pray also for volunteers and staff of Children’s Disaster Services. Pray for those who are living in shelters in the Houston and Galveston areas of Texas, and for the volunteers who are caring for children there.
  • Contribute to the cost of placing volunteers in the Hurricane Ike shelters, through donations to the Emergency Disaster Fund. The fund is a ministry of the Church of the Brethren. Send donations to Emergency Disaster Fund, Church of the Brethren, 1451 Dundee Ave., Elgin, IL 60120.
  • Contribute to the Church of the Brethren support for Church World Service disaster relief efforts, which takes place through grants from the denomination’s Emergency Disaster Fund. Send donations to the Emergency Disaster Fund, Church of the Brethren, 1451 Dundee Ave., Elgin, IL 60120.
  • Donate Emergency Clean-Up Bucket Kits, which are warehoused at the Brethren Service Center on behalf of Church World Service. Go to for a contents list and shipping address.
  • Attend a training workshop to become a Children’s Disaster Services volunteer. This fall, Level I Training Workshops are offered on Oct. 3-4 at the American Red Cross in Everett, Wash., and in Tacoma, Wash.; and on Oct. 10-11 at the Holiday Inn in Evansville, Ind. Go to for more information.


Newsline is produced by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of news services for the Church of the Brethren, or 800-323-8039 ext. 260. Judy Bezon, Roy Winter, and Loretta Wolf contributed to this report. Newsline appears every other Wednesday, with other special issues sent as needed. The next regularly scheduled issue is set for Sept. 24. Newsline stories may be reprinted if Newsline is cited as the source. For more Brethren news and features, subscribe to “Messenger” magazine, call 800-323-8039 ext. 247.

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