Checkbooks come out when student helps disaster survivors

Checkbooks come out when student helps disaster survivors

Hannah Snow was supported by churches when local businesses were unable to help.

GALAX, Va. – Hannah Snow had a plan. She wanted to help Holston Conference collect cleaning supplies for people experiencing disasters at home or afar.

At a time when floods, tornadoes, and fires seem more common, a massive delivery of detergent, trash bags, scrub brushes and other necessities are a godsend for people trying to clean up and recover. Snow heard about the need and wanted to make a difference.

Yet the college student was surprised and discouraged when she approached local businesses to ask for help and got "shot down," says her pastor.

“She wrote a letter on church stationery and went to about 15 businesses to ask for donations,” says the Rev. Terri Johnson Gregory, pastor at Mount Olivet United Methodist Church.

Most of the Galax businesses she approached said they “don’t give to churches” or were too distressed by the pandemic to help. One or two managers tried to help.

Snow, age 20, is a junior in microbiology at Virginia Tech and an aspiring pediatrician. With her sight set on medical school, she recently went to her pastor to find a leadership project. She was intrigued when Gregory told her about a Sept. 24 article in The Call explaining the desperate need for Holston Conference to replenish its stockpile of disaster-relief supplies, so churches can be ready to help people when tragedy strikes.

“I have a special concern for children, and this just seemed like a great way to help families,” says Snow.

As a full-time student and gas station employee, Snow doesn't have a lot of extra cash. Snow initially thought local restaurants and stores would be able to participate in her project.

Her goal was to assemble at least 25 “Cleaning Kits” to help Holston Conference prepare for future disasters. However, the “Cleaning Kits” (also known as “flood buckets”) can be expensive and the ingredients difficult to find in stores, especially during a pandemic. The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) gives specific instructions for items to purchase and how to package them in a big bucket. The cost estimate is $75 per Cleaning Kit.

When Snow came back to her pastor to report the unsuccessful results of her business appeal, Gregory knew just what to do. She told Snow to stand up in front of her church, Mount Olivet, and ask for help.

“This was a shot in the arm for the church, a project that they could get behind,” said Gregory. “When Hannah said that ‘some of the businesses were just rude to me,’ the checkbooks came out.”

Snow quickly raised $660 from Mount Olivet. Members at nearby Gladesville United Methodist Church, Shiloh United Methodist Church, and Woodlawn United Methodist Church also gave money as well as cleaning supply donations.

The student thought she had a few weeks to put the buckets together, but then she learned the Rev. Harry Howe would be coming to the New River District office in Wytheville on Nov. 5 to pick up the much-needed Cleaning Kits.

Snow had two days to buy all the cleaning supplies on the detailed UMCOR list, including “18 re-useable cleaning wipes” and “24 roll of heavy-duty trash bags” for each bucket. The most difficult ingredient to find was 50- to 100-foot clotheslines, Snow said.

“I needed to do all of this during exams week,” she said. “I went to Wal-Mart, Dollar Tree, Lowe’s and other places, and I still couldn’t find everything.”

She was grateful when a church member, Connie Hughes, offered to go to nearby Dublin to help her finish off the list. Lowe’s Home Improvement in Galax also donated 10 of the buckets she needed.

In the end, Snow put together 24 “flood buckets” for her project, just one bucket short of her goal. It turns out $660 wasn’t enough to cover the cost, but church members helped her make up the difference when she spent her own money. Her family helped assemble the buckets. Her parents delivered them to the district office when Snow had to be at work.
The Snow family assembles Cleaning Kits.

“It takes a lot of teamwork and donations to do this,” Snow said. “People in the church were very willing to help.” When store workers inquired why she was buying so much of their inventory and Snow explained the project, they said, “Aw, that’s nice” and were also glad to help, she said.

When Howe arrived to pick up disaster-relief supplies on Nov. 5, New River District had 33 total Cleaning Kits to give, thanks to Snow’s effort, said Administrative Assistant Joanna Corvin. Churches in the district also contributed 88 Hygiene Kits.

“I was so pleased to hear that a young person would make this their leadership project,” Corvin said. “This is what the United Methodist Church does. We live our faith and we excel in helping others and showing them the Lord we serve ... I feel our UMC is in good hands with young leaders such as Hannah.”

“Hannah prayed about this a lot,” said Gregory, whose Mt. Olivet congregation currently numbers about 75. “If we can do it here, anybody can. It just takes someone to hear the call of God and who is bold enough to stand up and say, ‘We can do this.’”

On Nov. 12, Howe spent the day traveling to other district offices throughout Holston Conference to pick up Cleaning Kits. When he spoke to The Call, churches in the Clinch Mountain District had already contributed about 25 Cleaning Kits and 130 Hygiene Kits.
Harry Howe, left, loads buckets. (File photo)

Churches in the Hiwassee District contributed 29 Cleaning Kits and 240 Hygiene Kits. Tennessee Valley District collected 27 Cleaning Kits and 75 Hygiene Kits.

Howe said he hoped to have 150 to 200 Cleaning Kits total by the end of the day. “Normally, we would have about 1,500 to 2,000 buckets at this time of year. We could get a call right now needing help after flooding, because our rains are way up,” he said.

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Holston Conference includes 853 United Methodist congregations in East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, and North Georgia.



Annette Spence

Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newsletter.