Churches establish disaster fund

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 25, 2006

Butler County found itself aiding many hurricane evacuees in the aftermath of a stormy season last year.

To help streamline the process and continue to channel the funds and supplies where they are most needed, the Greenville Ministerial Association has created a new Disaster Relief Fund.

&#8220Our experience last year in dealing with the many evacuees who came here, was seeing so many, many urgent needs,” Father Fred Lindstrom, rector of St. Thomas Episcopal Church and president of the ministerial association, said.

&#8220There were people with very little clothing. We had people with no food and no place to go. Others had medical needs, prescriptions to be filled, doctors' visits to make. And they had no money to pay for it. These folks were in a pickle.”

Working hand in hand with the Butler County Department of Human Resources, the GMA was able to use its Transient Ministry funds to provide for many of those immediate needs, Lindstrom said.

&#8220We were able to bypass a lot of that governmental red tape you get with so many agencies. We handled each on a case-by-case basis with DHR doing a lot of the work.”

Freida Stevens, director of the Butler County DHR, said the assistance of the GMA had been a great help during their disaster relief efforts.

&#8220There are certain guidelines we have to follow and restrictions on how and where money is spent – for example, we can't spend more than $500 on an item. The funds from the ministerial association did not come with those restrictions. When we ran into a funding problem, Father Fred would always help us out.”

Once Greenville was featured on CNN for its outreach to Katrina evacuees in the storm's aftermath, Lindstrom was inundated with calls from concerned people across the U.S. and Canada who wanted to help &#8220that priest on television.”

&#8220I told people, send money, phone cards, Wal-Mart giftcards. We had the volunteers in place; we just needed more resources.”

For those who chose to relocate to the area, help was provided with school uniforms for their children, clothing for work, and other job and educational needs.

&#8220Some people just had nothing to go back to, and no extended families to step in and help. They needed us,” Lindstrom said.

Funds from the GMA's Transient Ministry were also channeled through DHR to evacuees in Crenshaw, Lowndes and Wilcox counties.

Once emergency needs had been met and things &#8220had settled down,” Lindstrom met with his fellow GMA members and discussed setting up a separate Disaster Relief Fund with the funds left over from Katrina assistance.

&#8220This fund will be used to help victims of any disaster, not just hurricanes. We will continue to take donations from churches and individuals in this area to meet these disaster needs,” Lindstrom said.

&#8220I'm sorry to say it looks we may have another active storm season, so we are going to need this fund in place.”

Lindstrom said the Disaster Relief Fund will continue to help &#8220bridge the gap” between the needs of disaster victims, and the assistance provided through DHR and the donations of local churches, schools and individuals.

&#8220For example, many people brought clothing to the wonderful center set up by Southside Baptist Church…but they might not always have the sizes needed. So we would take the people to the store and buy them the clothing they needed.”

Lindstrom said the Greenville Ministerial Association continues to grow, encompassing both black and white churches of several denominations.

&#8220We keep records of everything we do and we keep our members aware of what is going on. This is our opportunity to represent the body of Christ – not just one particular church or denomination – as we reach out to people in need. These are local people reaching out to meet local needs.”

The GMA Transient Ministry will continue to assist those who, for example, find themselves stranded in the area or who become ill and need help, Lindstrom said.

To contribute to the Disaster Relief Fund for this hurricane season, you can send your checks to the Butler County Bank, earmarked GMA Disaster Relief Fund, or send them to the Greenville Ministerial Association Disaster Relief Fund, 210 Church St., Greenville, AL 36037.