As the rains came down and the floods came up across Louisiana last month, the faith community responded quickly and efficiently, just as it always does in times of trouble.
Churches provided shelters and boats to evacuate flood victims. Hundreds of volunteers from around the U.S. came and remain here feeding residents and helping them clean up the more than 11,000 homes damaged across 26 parishes, according to the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.
Gov. John Bel Edwards praised the faith community’s quick response when he spoke to about 150 pastors and other faith leaders at the Louisiana Family Forum’s Pastor’s Briefing following the 52nd Governor’s Prayer Breakfast.
“The great thing is not just the way in which the faith community responds, but the fact that the faith community doesn’t wait. It’s not waiting to be told what to do or where to go because you are in every community across the state of Louisiana,” Edwards said. “You know the people here, you know what needs to be done and you respond to it in a great fashion. And I want to thank you.”
Edwards credited churches for “opening their doors to make sure people were fed and getting together volunteers to go out and start ripping out flooring and drywall that was not dry” and for partnering with government agencies.
“What we do as a state wouldn’t matter if there weren’t folks out there in the communities working to improve peoples’ lives,” Edwards said.
Southern Baptists mobilize
Southern Baptist Convention volunteers from 11 states and hundreds of Louisiana Baptist Convention volunteers are cooking for thousands of displaced or affected residents and are “mudding out” hundreds of homes and at least 14 Baptist churches, according to the LBC.
As of March 25, Southern Baptists were operating 11 shower units and six laundry units. Some 800 volunteers in 21 “mud out” teams had performed 300 “tear-outs,” 100 mold remediations and completed 165 jobs, according to John Cowling, SBC’s state incident command center.
David Abernathy, of Louisiana Baptists Disaster Relief, said that in his 24 years, “I have never seen the churches rise to the occasion like they have with this flooding event.”
David Hankins, executive director of the Louisiana Baptists, recently wrote, “when the storms move out, we move in. The yellow shirts are there — again, bringing hope, help and sharing the love of God.”
Methodists ‘know what to do’
Disaster response is nothing new to the Rev. Cynthia Fierro Harvey, bishop of the Louisiana Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church, because before she became bishop here in 2012, she served as deputy general secretary of the United Methodist Committee on Relief.
“When responding to disasters in Louisiana, United Methodists have adopted the phrase, ‘When we don’t know what to do, we know what to do,’ ” Harvey said. “In the past several weeks, that phrase rang in my ears and in my heart as I witnessed once again the way people respond to the needs of their neighbor. They don’t even have to think about it or be told what or how to do it; they go into full-out help mode.”
Methodists rescued neighbors by boat, distributed buckets of cleaning supplies, opened churches as shelters and fed first responders, she said.
“When they don’t know what to do, they know that loving their neighbor is ‘what they do,’ ” Harvey said.
The United Methodist Committee on Relief has delivered, so far, a total of 20,500 cleaning buckets and 40,000 health kits via a UMCOR Sager Brown Depot in Baldwin in St. Mary Parish to destinations throughout Louisiana, according to a report compiled by Betty Backstrom, LAUMC director of communications.
The buckets contain cleaning liquids, scrub brushes, insect repellent, sponges, scouring pads, trash bags and other items. Health kits include hand towels, combs, soap, toothbrushes, money to buy toothpaste, bandages and other items for personal grooming.
Emergency Response Teams comprised of Louisiana Methodists have been deployed to different parts of the state to assist with mucking out houses and debris removal, Backstrom said.
In the Baton Rouge District, First United Methodist Church in Denham Springs opened as a Red Cross shelter.
“Church volunteers really stepped up, providing a 24-hour presence in case folks arrive and to assist our guests with the Red Cross. Folks have been bringing in food and other supplies,” said the Rev. Jaqueline King, senior pastor of First United Methodist Church in Denham Springs.
A half dozen United Methodist churches housed evacuees or were on standby to house evacuees, Backstrom reported. Several pastors serving the conference had to evacuate their own homes.
Catholics shelter and feed
Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Baton Rouge are partnering with other faith and volunteer groups to shelter and feed flood victims in the parishes east of Baton Rouge where flooding was widespread, according to a report from Carol Spruell, Catholic Charities spokeswoman.
“Catholic Charities staff performed assessments in the shelters and partnered with First Baptist in Ponchatoula, delivering cleaning supplies donated by our Catholic schools,” Spruell said. “We’re coordinating services with Louisiana and Florida Parishes Voluntary Organizations in Active Disasters, members and partnering with the Livingston Parish office of Homeland Security at their Disaster Recovery Center.”
David Aguillard, executive director of Catholic Charities of Baton Rouge, said the recent floods complicated responses because they were still dealing with the previous rash of tornadoes and not enough case managers.
“We know that disasters disproportionately affect the poor,” Aguillard said. “Many of these families were struggling before this disaster. Our expertise is really about helping those that have nowhere else to turn on the long journey to recovery.”
Salvation Army feeds hungry
Captain Brett Meredith, of the Salvation Army of Baton Rouge, said they are cooking and distributing about 200 meals a day to recovery workers in Livingston Parish and in Hammond, and provided about 300 clean-up kits to Livingston and Ascension parish residents.
He took two disaster teams to the Monroe area and the damage there, he said, was much worse than around here.
“The flooding there was far more significant,” he said. “I drove a road up in Morehouse Parish. The water was lapping up onto the road and it was just miles of water, with water six feet up to the sides of the houses.”
“Where there is need, we will be there,” Meredith said.