News from the Tennessee Valley Religion
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 17, 2005
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Melanie Smith

Church aid is 'the rest of the story'

If you only knew . . .

So now I'm telling you.

If you despair at the failures or slowness of government bureaucracy to relieve human suffering in the wake of massive Hurricane Katrina, you may now read some of the rest of the story.

Yes, there were stranded, languishing victims who survived the storm, people begging for aid. But under the government radar, help was arriving.

One harried official along the Mississippi coast told a TV reporter several days after the storm that government aid had not come. He said his community had seen no help — except from a church group feeding people. Similarly, Catholic Charities' director in New Orleans helped feed people at the Superdome, a bishop said.

That is the story I want you to know, how church members and other religious people pitched in and are still pitching in to help relieve suffering after Katrina's beating.

Many of these volunteers work with the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army and other charities to set up feeding units, clear fallen trees and man shelters. Some arrived within hours of the storm's passing. Often just yards from wrecked homes, church volunteers were cooking hot meals for victims, handing them out free from the portable kitchens that they keep at ready to deploy.

The Southern Baptist North American Mission Board reported Wednesday that volunteers had served more than 2 million meals in stricken areas. Most meals were under the Red Cross umbrella.

The Morgan County Baptist feeding unit is scheduled to deploy to the Alabama coast later this month.

But that Baptist work, the third largest charity in the United States, is only one facet of the religious response.

Every denomination is taking in and giving out thousands upon thousands of dollars in aid.

Locally, congregations haven't been satisfied only passing the plate for disaster relief.

They organized dinners for local evacuees, inviting them to their fellowship halls. They collected food, baby items and toiletries and gave them out locally. They called on evacuees who settled temporarily in local hotels, talking to them, delivering hot meals, paying for lodging and helping them learn their way around.

A few local churches opened buildings as shelters. Speake Christian Fellowship and East Highland Baptist in Athens opened their buildings. Trinity Baptist welcomed an extended family to a church-owned house.

Here is part of one congregation's effort: Beltline Church of Christ took an offering of $79,000 for relief. It gathered linens to get church camps ready for evacuees. A group from Beltline left Wednesday for Pearl River County, Miss., to deliver water, food, first aid, paper towels, juice boxes and teddy bears and other help. Those were all items that Harry Hames and others from the church saw lacking when they visited the wrecked area last week. I have a personal interest in this project; I grew up in that county.

Numerous other churches collected water, cleaning supplies and other items for regional relief warehouses to distribute. Some trucked supplies themselves to the Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana coasts.

The Committee on Church Cooperation and The Caring Place, both church-supported organizations, are providing groceries, clothes, food and fuel to storm victims as they try to set up temporary or permanent homes in the area.

Churches and denominational bodies are also planning how to help down the line, such training more people for disaster relief.

There's too much going on to tell it all.

If you still haven't helped in relief efforts but want to, it's not too late. It won't be too late for a long time. You can give to the Red Cross, the Salvation Army and other hard-working charities.

And you can contact your house of worship or one down the street.

There's something going on at nearly every one of them to help storm victims.

Now you know.

Melanie Smith is religion writer of THE DECATUR DAILY. For more information on religion columns, call her at 340-2468 on Tuesdays or Wednesdays.

Melanie Smith Melanie Smith

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