Mid-Ohio Valley answers the call for Hurricane Katrina relief
By MELINA HUDDY
PARKERSBURG - West Virginians are generous givers, a sentiment shared by leaders of area congregations participating in Katrina relief efforts.Christians of all denominations from churches large and small answered the call with goods, services, volunteers and financial support that will continue for months to come.
Churches of Christ met in the aftermath of the storm and decided to offer the community a way to help support people forced from their homes and communities.
''We spoke with the managers of the Vienna Wal-Mart who agreed to let us set up in their lot. Bob Frazier of Atlas Trucking donated the semi trailers and within four-and-a-half days we had filled that truck with 70,000 pounds of supplies,'' said Teddy Tackett, with Lynn Street Church of Christ who worked with John Spivey of the Grand Central Church of Christ on the project.
''The community support was phenomenal. I have never been a part of anything like it, to watch the people come forward, some with as little as a bar of soap, some with money for the gas to get the truck there," he said. "The people of this valley have great heart.''
Water, paper products, cleaning supplies and baby items were dropped off at the collection site. Word quickly spread and as far away as Pennsylvania where wives of the Pittsburgh Pirates sent five baby beds and cases of baby food to be loaded on the truck.
The truck was driven by John Fordyce and his brother to Gulfport, Miss., where the Orange Grove Church of Christ established a drive-through distribution center.
John and Chris Fordyce had taken a truck to Baton Rouge, La., the week before in a combined effort of Beechwood Presbyterian, Cornerstone Gospel and Holy Mountain Ministries churches.
''We set up a number of collection sites and there was huge community involvement. Before we pulled out, we got a call that food and water was needed right away in Biloxi, Miss. and took 10 pallets off the trailer and loaded them on a smaller truck to be taken there, then refilled the 53-foot trailer and my husband, John, and his brother, Chris, drove it down,'' Tammy Fordyce said.
Support came from numerous sources. Noah's Ark supplied children's clothing, Criss and Martin schools held collection drives, Dollar General donated two barrels filled with items and K-mart, Hallmark and other retailers pitched in.
The local parish of United Methodist Churches filled a truck that was taken to evacuees at Camp Dawson, while the United Methodist Council on Relief donated funds to the American Red Cross.
''Many of our smaller churches cannot fill a truck and have it taken where it is needed, but they are helping fill other trucks when they find out there is one going,'' said Lisa Taylor at Parkersburg Urban Ministries. ''This is not a one-time thing, but an ongoing relief effort that will continue into the foreseeable future. For instance, Zion Baptist is collecting items right now and will add them to the next load they hear of leaving.''
The West Virginia Baptist Convention headquartered in Parkersburg has coordinated efforts of its churches to collect health kits with more than 2,000 already delivered and another 2,000 ready to be sent.
''The American Baptist Men's disaster relief team was deployed two-and-a-half weeks ago. Twenty-four men went to Wiggins, Miss., just north of Gulf Port, where they worked clearing trees and minor home repairs. Those men returned last week and 28 others went to relieve them,'' said John Simmons, minister of mission support for the conference. ''We expect to continue rotating workers in that are for at least three months. Those volunteers are supported because of the generosity of our people, it costs about $100 per man per week to keep them there.''
The conference offered its camp and conference center as emergency shelter for evacuees, though the facilities were not needed at this time, they remain on the primary list through Homeland Security as emergency relief in West Virginia.
''Several of our people have visited evacuees at Camp Dawson and provided, either as congregations or as individuals, a number of goods and services. West Virginians give because they know what it is to need, whether it's a toy for a child or counseling for the grieving,'' Simmons said. ''Parkersburg churches have put together hundreds of those health kits and at least two of our local churches, Williamstown and North Parkersburg, are taking groups down to assist in relief efforts.''
Financial support has come in all amounts and from numerous sources.
''We had children come to us with a handful of change from their banks and those donations meant as much as the thousands given by congregations because it means doing all that you can,'' Tackett said.
The Camden Avenue Church of Christ sent a check for $17,000 to support relief efforts in Tyler, Texas, where Jay Lockhart, a Parkersburg native who grew up in the church, preaches in a Church of Christ. The Belpre Church of Christ sent $16,000 to the Church of Christ Disaster Relief Fund in Nashville, Tenn.
The Baptist convention's One Great Hour of Sharing offering resulted in donations of $120,000 in West Virginia alone.
''There was $30,000 donated for relief efforts here in West Virginia and another $50,000 donated that should be received in the next few days. We have contacted the executive minister of southern American Baptist Churches and offered to help rebuild churches as they move into the reconstruction phase, still in the early stages of planning,'' Simmons said.
All agree that efforts will continue for months to come and that any contribution, large or small, will help rebuild the lives of those displaced by what is being called the worst natural disaster in American history.