Missouri Towns Begin Long-Term Recovery Efforts
By Susan J. Meister*
July 9, 2008—Dawn Martin pointed out one flooded home after another in Winfield and Foley, Missouri. "One of 'my kids' lives there," she said, sadly.
For the two weeks before the earthen levees failed in the river towns along the Mississippi River residents anticipated the coming floods and packed, moved and stored as many of their possessions as possible. Martin, youth director at nearby St. Stephen UMC, Troy, wanted to make sure the kids in the youth group got out of their homes and had a place to stay. Now that the flood waters have inundated their homes and so many others in the area, she is motivated to be part of the long-term recovery effort.
"I want to help find the families that need help but might not ask," she said. "I want to help them find the resources they need."
The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), in close cooperation with the Missouri Annual Conference, has begun the long process of recovery in the river towns in Lincoln County. The effort will draw on people like Martin as well as resources and organizations throughout the community.
Flooding Part of a Region-Wide Disaster
The flooding, about 45 miles northwest of St. Louis, occurred in late June as the Mississippi River levels rose above flood stage. The flooding in Missouri was part of the region-wide pattern of heavy spring rains that caused severe flooding in Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana.
Hundreds of homes and thousands of acres of farmland were flooded in the 13-mile stretch along the river between Elsberry and Winfield. Residents are waiting for waters to recede to begin damage assessment, clean up, and repair. And, with levees no longer protecting the town, they anxiously watch forecasts for additional heavy rains.
Jeff Baker, staff with the Missouri Conference Office of Creative Ministries, is ready to deploy volunteers when the time is right. "Because this area has been declared for (FEMA) individual assistance, we don't want to just run in and help because we could jeopardize the families' ability to receive funds," he said. "When the long-term recovery committee is in place, we will begin asking for volunteers in mission to help rebuild."
Long-Term Recovery Organizing in Lincoln County
In the meantime, Martin, Baker and others are cooperating with Sts. Joachim and Ann Care Service, the agency that has been identified as the lead agency for long-term recovery in Lincoln, St. Charles, Warren, Montgomery and Pike counties. Sts. Joachim and Ann has a long association with UMCOR, most recently as one of the agencies funded by Katrina Aid Today, a case management program that helped local families displaced by Hurricane Katrina.
"Lincoln County was the most affected (by the recent flood)," explained Miriam Mahan, executive director. "We are educating all the officials and organizations - things are coming together beautifully. We are meeting with the 'movers and shakers' in the community, recruiting volunteer case managers, and finding places to distribute food and cleaning supplies.
As long-term recovery begins, the work of case managers is critical. Case managers encourage families to register with FEMA and other agencies so that they can access assistance. They help connect those affected with resources and volunteer labor.
UMCOR is recognized as the leader in the techniques of disaster case management. Karen Benson, Missouri Conference disaster response coordinator, will conduct the first training class for case managers in Hannibal Saturday, July 12.
United Methodists Connect and Respond
"Of course I had heard of UMCOR, but I didn't realize how the connectional system worked until the floods," exclaimed Dawn Martin, St. Stephen's UMC. "Within two hours, nearby United Methodist churches delivered 350 meals to sandbagging crews! And UMCOR is so respected in disaster response circles - it is amazing."
"Missouri is following a proven path of local response with UMCOR partnership," explained Tom Hazelwood, executive for domestic disaster response. "UMCOR brings money, consultation, training and volunteer coordination to the table.
"While other volunteer organizations focus on rescue and initial relief, UMCOR takes a holistic approach that tries to touch people's lives throughout the process. United Methodists are involved in everything from delivering meals, to helping with sandbags beforehand to mucking out the houses and focusing on long-term recovery after the disaster," Hazelwood continued. "Local people know their communities the best and have the motivation to respond. UMCOR will stand with them until the recovery is complete."
How to Help
To help those affected by floods, please give to UMCOR Advance #901670, Domestic Disaster Response, Midwest Floods.
If you would like to volunteer, contact your conference or jurisdictional United Methodist Volunteer in Mission coordinator for information volunteer opportunities.
Up to 10% of gifts for Midwest Flooding may be used to repair United Methodist churches and their facilities that were not insured for their catastrophic losses.
*Meister is domestic disaster response correspondent for UMCOR.