When the needs and requests from around the world seem to have no end, Holston churches are again giving money and supplies -- this time, to their closest neighbors.
Severe storms and massive flooding on the April 30 weekend killed 23 people in Tennessee, state emergency management officials said. The federal government has declared 42 counties disaster areas. Flooding has caused more than $1.5 billion in property damage in the Nashville area alone, city officials said.
Holston churches immediately began to respond to the disaster, collecting "cleaning buckets," water bottles, and gift cards and donating to UMCOR.
The conference also sent the denomination's first Early Response Team into the Nashville suburb of Carthage on Thursday, May 6, and a second team on Sunday, May 9. In all, 10 workers are now in the Nashville area and another team will depart May 13, said Jim Fetzer, Holston disaster response coordinator.
"I am asking you to again step up to the plate and show our neighbors that people in Holston have huge hearts," the letter stated. "God calls on us to share what we have with all of our brother and sisters in their time of need. So many of us have family members and friends who live in the areas affected by the flooding."
Buckets and money for UMCOR
The United Methodist Committee on Relief announced that 10,236 cleaning buckets were sent to Nashville last week and that "supplies are getting low." Holston Conference delivered 123 buckets to the Nashville area and issued a request to churches to supply more.
Cleaning buckets are five-gallon reusable containers filled with supplies that enable people to begin the job of cleaning up after a flood, hurricane, tropical storm, or fire.
In Johnson City, Munsey Memorial United Methodist Church began its bucket collection by inviting the community to join in. The church set up a display during the city's downtown "First Friday" celebration, collecting 10 filled buckets and "promises of more to come," according to Dianna Cantler, director of connectional ministries. Donations for UMCOR were also collected.
"It's a way for people to help and a way to communicate the projects of UMCOR at the same time," she said. (See the related Johnson City Press article.)
Salem UMC in Kingsport reported that children had collected $250 for UMCOR on Sunday morning, May 9. First Bulls Gap UMC of Morristown District put out a plea for both buckets and donations.
Other United Methodists felt the call to respond in quicker ways. Four Belmont University students from First Maryville UMC talked to their parents about collecting water bottles for Nashville residents under water restriction. The parents and Youth Ministries Director Asa Hendrickson created a Facebook page, and the water drive "kind of took on a life of its own," says Ann Leatherwood.
First Maryville UMC was chosen as a water drop-off point and church members were invited to participate. By Sunday night, May 9, about 300 cases of water had been collected, Leatherwood said. Some water was delivered to the campus over the weekend by parent Penny Parker, for distribution by students through the "Belmont Responds" effort.
The rest will be delivered this week as parents pick up their students for the summer, Leatherwood said. The college students are Hannah Parker, Michelle Leatherwood, Amanda Short, and Sarah Gaskin. (See related article in The Daily Times.)
Mark Wills, a Greeneville pastor and Vanderbilt seminary student, was also quick to offer relief in the campus town, joining with fellow student Heather Lefkowitz to collect gift card donations for Lowe's, Home Depot, and Wal-Mart.
"We just started asking friends and family members to gather gift cards that we could give out to people we are working with and around in Nashville," said Wills, pastor at Carter's Station/Carter's Chapel UMC in Morristown District. "It is a very grass roots project, but it came about as we realized many people have not been able to go in to work and won't be getting paychecks."
By Sunday night, Wills had collected gift cards totaling $500. He and Lekowitz also collected $2,000 to buy 100 sleeping bags for immigrant children in a housing project that had not yet received assistance.
He described the "stench" of piled-up debris left by the flood, as well as the shock of seeing "neighborhood after neighborhood of damaged houses."
"It's mind-boggling how many people are involved in this," he said. A day spent counseling victims for Hands on Nashville was "harder than anything else," he said. "To look into their eyes and see the pain of people who have lost everything was bittersweet," he said.
When Wills returned to Greeneville to preach on Sunday morning, his two congregations loaded his car with canned foods and other supplies for flood victims. They also gave $800 to help buy the sleeping bags, Wills said. The two churches have about 35 members combined.