Newsline Special: Update on Church Responses to Disasters, Hunger

Quote of the week
Brethren Disaster Ministries’ Facebook post for Sept. 11
“Memories of the children CDS (Children’s Disaster Services) served in NYC after the attack fill this day. Sometimes there would be children from six or seven different countries, speaking as many languages. Yet the real language of children, their play, crossed barriers and reminded us, even in this horrific time, that there is always hope. Hope in our children. When so many lost so much…fathers and mothers, heroes and survivors were lost, the children showed us there is hope. In loving memory, Roy Winter.”

“Even though the Lord is high, he can still see the lowly…” (Psalm 138:6a, Common English Bible).

1) Brethren affected by flooding in Pennsylvania.
2) Church helps neighbors hit by flood.
3) Congregations encouraged to engage in anti-hunger action this fall.
4) Americans living in poverty reach record levels.
5) Disaster response bits and pieces.

1) Brethren affected by flooding in Pennsylvania.

Brethren Disaster Ministries staff have been in communication with Brethren districts and churches in Pennsylvania, following the flooding caused by Tropical Storm Lee. The BDM office is urging individuals who are affected to apply for FEMA assistance in the Pennsylvania counties where they are eligible.

“We have been continuing to communicate and work with Southern Pennsylvania and Atlantic Northeast Districts,” reported Zach Wolgemuth, associate director of Brethren Disaster Ministries. “A few churches are responding to local needs or are planning a response in the near future. In Atlantic Northeast, White Oak Church of the Brethren has already helped one of its members gut their home in Manheim, Pa., and in Pine Grove, Pa., the Schuylkill Church of the Brethren has assembled clean-up buckets for local use.”

In Lebanon County, Annville Church of the Brethren put together a work day to help clean up flooding that happened in their church building (see following story). In York County, in Southern Pennsylvania District, the York Council of Churches put out a request for volunteers to help do clean-up work and York First Church of the Brethren is planning to respond to the request.

Residents of upstate New York (above) work to clean up following Hurricane Irene. Below, a house in Prattsville, N.Y., which received severe damage in the hurricane and flooding. Photos courtesy of FEMA/Elissa Jun

Residents of upstate New York (above) work to clean up following Hurricane Irene. Below, a house in Prattsville, N.Y., which received severe damage in the hurricane and flooding. Photos courtesy of FEMA/Elissa Jun

Congregations are requested to note that a number of counties in the area received a FEMA IA (Individual Assistance) Declaration, which means that individuals and families affected by flooding there may apply for assistance from FEMA.

Individuals in these counties who have sustained damage can apply for assistance through FEMA and should do so immediately, Brethren Disaster Ministries staff said. Volunteers helping with clean up can continue to do so, but before repairs are made to homes those persons living in the IA-declared counties should register with FEMA.

The FEMA IA (Individual Assistance) Declaration has been approved for the following counties: Adams, Bradford, Columbia, Cumberland, Dauphin, Lancaster, Lebanon, Luzerne, Lycoming, Montour, Northumberland, Perry, Schuylkill, Snyder, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Union, Wyoming, and York Counties.

Individuals applying for assistance should log on to .

In related news:

Church World Service (CWS) is appealing for donations of 10,000 Emergency Clean-up Buckets for distribution to people affected by Hurricane Irene, from North Carolina to New England. In a recent press release, Bert Marshall, CWS regional director for New England, points out that many of the people in communities that now are receiving CWS relief supplies have been among the most generous donors of Emergency Clean-up Buckets and other supplies in the past. “Some of these buckets, people might even recognize coming back,” said Marshall. CWS has been distributing supplies to people made homeless by flooding in places like Brattleboro, Vt., the release noted. Those wishing to help by donating Emergency Clean-up Buckets can find instructions and a list of bucket contents at .

The Church of the Brethren’s Emergency Disaster Fund (EDF) has made a grant of $20,000 in response to a CWS appeal following the devastation caused by Hurricane Irene. The money will support the work of CWS in providing cleanup buckets, hygiene kits, baby kits, school kits, and blankets in communities affected by the disaster, and will support the work of CWS to assist communities in long-term recovery development.

An EDF grant of $5,000 supports the work of Children’s Disaster Services (CDS) volunteers serving in upstate New York following flooding caused by Hurricane Irene. Seven volunteers have been working in the Binghamton Shelter on the State University of New York campus, reports associate director Judy Bezon. “Word is that the shelter population will decline more slowly than usual, as one major low-cost housing area in an inner city neighborhood is almost destroyed, and a number of the residents are in the shelter,” she said.

Staff of the church’s Material Resource program, which warehouses and ships disaster relief materials out of the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Md., have been busy with shipments in response to Hurricane Irene. Cleanup buckets, hygiene kits, school kits, and baby kits went to Waterbury, Vt., Manchester, N.H., Ludlow, Vt., Brattleboro, Vt., Greenville, N.C.,

Hillside, N.J., and Baltimore, Md. A total of 3,150 cleanup buckets were included in these shipments. The available supply in New Windsor is less than 50 at this point, reported director Loretta Wolf in a staff newsletter today.

For more about the Church of the Brethren’s disaster relief programs go to .


2) Church helps neighbors hit by flood.

By Kathy Hackleman of “The Lebanon (Pa.) Daily News”

Instead of holding a regular Sunday service, about 85 members of Annville (Pa.) Church of the Brethren gathered for a short worship service early Sunday, and then fanned out with mops, shop vacs, and sheer muscle to assist with flood cleanup.

Michael Shearer, who led the worship service in the absence of pastor Jim Beckwith, who has been out of town, noted that while Sunday, Sept. 11, was a day to remember the tragedy of 10 years ago, it was also a day to “pick up our buckets and get to work as many of our next-door neighbors have been affected by this latest tragedy.”

On Saturday, church members took the pulse of the congregation and community to find out the areas where the need was the greatest. That’s where the volunteers went.

“God is here, working through all who choose to put their faith into action,” Shearer added, as he sent the volunteers out into the community.

The church itself suffered significant damage with about 12 inches of water in the basement, and volunteers had been working there since Thursday morning. As some of the volunteers stayed behind to finish cleaning up there, others went to the homes of church members who had flood damage. Still others went to areas where they knew the damage was significant and simply knocked on doors, asking, “Do you need help?”

Several members went to the home of church member Sara Longenecker, where three feet of water inundated her basement. Longenecker has lived in the large, two-story home for 48 years, but last week, the water damage was more severe than any previous storm, including Hurricane Agnes in 1972. Thanks to Longenecker’s recommendation, her next-door neighbor, Ruth Boyer, also received assistance through the church.

Boyer, whose basement had never had water in it in the 24 years she has lived there, said water came up through the cement floor until it measured 30 inches deep. Although she found a contractor who pumped the water out and she has had some assistance from family, she had no one to carry her water-soaked furniture up and out until the men from the church arrived.

“I didn’t know what I would do until they came,” she said. “Their help has been wonderful.”

Jen and Tony Betz also are members of the church. Their finished basement had four feet of water in it, destroying nearly everything in their family room, utility room, and two storage rooms. Most of the items were already out of the basement by the time church crews arrived, so they began dismantling soaked interior walls, and disinfecting toys.

Across town, church crews assisted Irene Gingrich, who once babysat for several church members or their children. Water filled Gingrich’s finished basement, destroying furniture and appliances, and threatening a lifetime of memories.

Now 86 years old, Gingrich wanted to save as many things as possible, so the crews there boxed up her treasures. After cleaning out her garage, which also had flooded, they sat up tables where they carefully placed items they planned to clean in an effort to save them.

“You don’t know how thankful I am,” Gingrich exclaimed. “I never expected this many people, and I never thought they would try to save as many things as they are trying to do.”

Although many of the recipients of the Annville Church of the Brethren work crews’ assistance were members or somehow connected to members, Michael Schroeder simply was in the right place at the right time. On Sunday morning, he was working to clear out his finished basement, which had been filled with water during the height of the storm.

“They just showed up at my door and said ‘Can we help’ and I said, ‘Yes, you may,'” Schroeder said. “The way the entire community has come together is just amazing. We have had neighborhood kids come by and ask how they can help, and some college kids came by on Friday.”

Schroeder, who has lived in his house for only a year, called the level of community support “simply stunning.”

As for the volunteers, many of whom had already spent three days dealing with their own flooding issues or assisting other friends and family members, why did they spend their “day of rest” assisting others?

Volunteer Terry Alwine succinctly summed it up, “That’s what we do.”

(Article reprinted with permission. It appeared in “The Lebanon Daily News” on Sept. 12. Find it and photos online at .)


3) Congregations encouraged to engage in anti-hunger action this fall.


This harvest season is a time for celebrating the providence of God — and also working against hunger. Photo courtesy of Church World Service

The general secretary of the Church of the Brethren, Stan Noffsinger, has sent a letter to each congregation in the denomination encouraging each to engage in some new and specific hunger action during this harvest season. The new effort is sponsored by the church’s Global Food Crisis Fund and the advocacy and peace witness office in Washington, D.C.

“For people of faith, harvest season has been a foremost and festive occasion for celebrating the providence of God,” said the letter, dated Sept. 8. “Through its mission and service ministries, the Church of the Brethren has long been a creative force in feeding the hungry.

“From now ’til Thanksgiving, the themes of harvest and hunger will resound on many fronts. During this season I encourage each Church of the Brethren congregation to engage in at least one new action that addresses the mounting hunger in our nation and world,” the letter continued, in part.

The letter listed a number of options for action against hunger that a congregation may consider, such as a special offering on World Food Day on Sunday, Oct. 16, to the Global Food Crisis Fund designated for drought victims in the Horn of Africa; or speaking publicly on federal, state, and local budgets that impact the hungry, forming a “circle of protection” around the most vulnerable; or taking the Food Stamp Challenge of eating on just $4.50 a day, and applying the savings to causes that strengthen food security.

Find out more about the effort and link to resources at .


4) Americans living in poverty reach record levels.

Data released yesterday by the US Census Bureau reveals that nearly 46.2 million Americans now live in poverty, an increase of 2.6 million people since 2009 and the highest figures on record. The poverty rate for children under 18 increased to 22 percent (over 16.4 million children) in 2010. Among children under 5, the poverty rate increased to 25.9 percent (over 5.4 million children).

“Low-income working families did not create the economic situation that our nation is in, but they tend to be the first hurt and the last to recover during a recession,” said David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World. “These new poverty figures indicate that many Americans are still suffering.”

The census figures come on the heels of the Department of Agriculture’s annual food insecurity data released last week, which indicated that 14.5 percent of American households suffered from food insecurity in 2010. Several key factors contributed to the high figures. Long-term unemployment worsened between 2009 and 2010, with the number of people who did not work at all as the number one factor contributing to higher poverty numbers. In addition, real median household income declined in 2010, and state and local governments are tightening their belts as they work to recover from the recession, thereby slowing economic growth.

Accounting for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) would show 5.4 million fewer people–including 3 million children–living in poverty. The figures would have been much higher without federally funded safety net programs that helped keep more Americans from falling below the poverty line last year. The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction–or “Super Committee”–met today to determine how to balance the federal budget and reduce the deficit. The congressional committee must identify $1.5 trillion in federal deficit reductions, and funding is at risk for many of these programs.

“Matthew 25 teaches that what we do unto the ‘least of these’ we do to God. We pray that the needs of hungry and poor people remain front and center as the Super Committee begins work on reducing our nation’s deficit,” added Beckmann. “We must create a circle of protection around programs that support our neighbors in need–not cut those programs. We urge lawmakers to put every possibility on the table as they work toward balancing the budget.”

Census Bureau data found that the poverty rate increased for non-Hispanic whites (9.9 percent in 2010, up from 9.4 percent in 2009), Hispanics (26.6 percent in 2010, up from 25.3 percent in 2009), and African-Americans (27.4 percent in 2010, up from 25.8 percent in 2009).

(This release was provided by Bread for the World, a collective Christian voice urging an end to hunger at home and abroad. The Church of the Brethren’s Global Food Crisis Fund partners with Bread for the World on hunger concerns.)


5) Disaster response bits and pieces.

The 35th Annual Brethren Disaster Relief Auction will be held at the Lebanon Valley Expo, 80 Rocherty Rd., Lebanon, Pa., on Sept. 23-24. It is a joint effort by the Church of the Brethren’s Southern Pennsylvania and Atlantic Northeast Districts to raise funds to respond to disasters both locally and overseas.

Virlina District hold its 2011 Disaster Response Volunteer Appreciation Dinner on Oct. 23 at Germantown Brick Church of the Brethren in Rocky Mount, Va. “From Sept. 2010-Aug. 2011, over 130 individuals have volunteered on disaster response work projects or child care services,” the district newsletter said. The gathering begins at 5 p.m. with dinner, volunteer recognition, and a program given by Glenn Kinsel, a long time advocate of disaster response work. For a reservation call the District Resource Center at 540-362-1816 or 800-847-5462.

A meeting of the World Council of Churches in Ethiopia is exposing the executive committee of the worldwide ecumenical organization to the famine in the Horn of Africa, according to a release. The WCC Executive Committee opened its bi-annual meetings Monday in Addis Ababa with welcomes from local church leaders and detailed presentations on the crisis. A particular concern was the famine in Somalia, which is impacting the entire region including Ethiopia, Kenya, and Djibouti. Reports were brought by Robert Hedley of Bread for the World, Yilikal Shiferaw of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church Development and Inter-Church Aid Commission, and executive committee member Agnes Abuom from Kenya. The crisis has been caused by a combination of ongoing conflicts, drought, poor access to food, poverty, and climate change. Shiferaw said some 4.5 million people require assistance with emergency food and non-food needs of approximately $400 million necessary just for July through December. Another $3.2 million is required to cover other needs such as health, sanitation, water, education, and agriculture, he said. Abuom reported, “This is the worst famine in 60 years according to the UN.”


Contributors to this issue of Newsline include Judy Bezon, Lesley Crosson, Nancy Miner, Howard Royer, Zach Wolgemuth, Jane Yount, and editor Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of News Services for the Church of the Brethren. Look for the next regularly scheduled issue Sept. 22. 

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