Saint Andrew United Methodist Church in St. Albans, West Virginia, opened its doors to distribute water.
By Susan Kim*
February 4, 2014—When a chemical spill left some 300,000 West Virginians without water in January, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) was able to respond to needs within 24 hours.
Working through a network of Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD), UMCOR helped make the connections to secure a shower trailer for use by emergency workers. UMCOR responders also checked on water supplies, and provided emotional and spiritual care for those affected by this widespread disaster.
Greg Forrester, UMCOR’s assistant general secretary for US Disaster Response, commended the churches that opened their doors for people to obtain water. “We also helped resupply the food pantries in the churches,” Forrester explained, since food pantries were visited more often as businesses were shut down and workers were going without pay for nearly a week.
The CARE Team from the West Virginia Conference completed “spiritual and emotional wellness checks” on more than 90 households, said Sue Lowther, who serves as the conference’s disaster response coordinator along with her husband Dan.
“The teams took water and food to all the families that they visited with. They are actually getting ready to do a follow-up with the ones that we've seen,” she said. “We're going back in to check on them to see if they have further needs.”
Dan Lowther, vice chair of the West Virginia VOAD, urged people to remember that West Virginians will be left with needs long after the news about the water contamination dries up.
“Among the families Sue and I visited, we began noticing that a lot of them were not working because businesses were shut down. They were spending money they had for rent and utilities to buy water and the other things they needed.”
Lowther said people will continue to need food and assistance with rent.
“Right now, we are working with our food pantries and other agencies. We are monitoring the amount of help that might be needed.”
UMCOR's connectional strength was evident when Forrester contacted the Rev. Rob Pihlcrantz, disaster response coordinator for the Virginia Conference. “Greg called and asked me where my shower trailer was. It was sitting in the yard, but we couldn't get it to West Virginia right away because it was being used for a homeless ministry and wouldn't be available for two weeks,” he said.
Pihlcrantz, who is also president of the Virginia VOAD, put out a request for a shower trailer. Soon, he heard back from a fellow VOAD member, Operation Blessing. “Together, we got the shower trailer to West Virginia the next day.”
Pihlcrantz said this is just one example of how UMCOR connects within the church as well as with the VOAD community. “We all know what our niches are and we provide those services,” he said. “We can't do this job unless we do it together.”
Help West Virginians cope with the after-effects of water contamination. Please give to US Disaster Response, UMCOR Advance #901670.
*Susan Kim is a journalist and a regular contributor to www.umcor.org.