Editor’s note: At this writing (6 p.m. Central on Friday, March 2), LCMS Disaster Response staff have contacted congregations in Alabama, Indiana and Kentucky. About half of them have confirmed no major LCMS damages or fatalities from March 2 storms (the others have not yet responded to messages). Reporter Online will continue to provide updates as information is received.
Thousands of volunteers reportedly showed up in Harrisburg, Ill., March 2 to help residents clean up after a deadly tornado killed at least six people and caused widespread destruction there two days earlier.
“Authorities struggled to assign tasks to so many spontaneous volunteers this early in the disaster,” said the Rev. Glenn Merritt, director of LCMS Disaster Response. Merritt emphasized the importance of checking with local authorities prior to arriving on the scene of a disaster.
“Disaster-response work is complicated and challenging,” he said, and right now the beleaguered town also is dealing with masses of onlookers and news reporters as well as volunteers.
LCMS churches and members in Illinois, Kansas and southern Missouri seem to have escaped major damages in the deadly Feb. 28-29 storm that killed at least 12 people and injured more than 100 others. As needs are assessed, Merritt said the Synod is offering grants and on-site visits to assist those who need help.
Merritt also shared information from Dave Roth, vice-president of Church & Civic Engagement with Lutheran Child and Family Services of Illinois, River Forest, Ill., who has been involved in the response to victims in Harrisburg.
Following a teleconference with other area disaster coordinators about the situation there, Roth offers the following advice for those who want to help:
- Making “cash contributions to organizations that you know and trust,” he says, is “the best way to help.” A lot of unwanted items already are beginning to accumulate in Harrisburg, Roth said, diverting time and energy away from real recovery efforts.
- If you are close by and want to volunteer, call first. Roth suggests calling the volunteer hotline at 618-294-9600 or checking the website of The Southern Illinoisan at http://thesouthern.com for information (click the “How to Help” link).
- “Local clergy have organized community outreach, the American Red Cross is doing door-to-door assessments, the Salvation Army is providing crucial food and meals support, and, of course, local churches and organizations are doing a wonderful job of looking out for their neighbors,” Roth says. “Do not make it more difficult on them by sending things that have not been requested, or showing up yourself without having a specific task and assignment already determined.”
- Illinois Governor Pat Quinn has requested an assessment by FEMA for “Individual Assistance” (to families) — which is expected to begin the week of March 5 — and “Public Assistance” (to local government).
“It is always a good idea for a congregation and community to own and direct its own recovery, using all the resources it can muster,” Roth says. “It is never a good idea to view FEMA as the cavalry [and] to wait in hope for that declaration.
“FEMA assistance might or might not come,” he said. “If it does come, it will provide a rebuilding supplement to some families, but rarely can it meet all the needs, and never does it meet the most extreme needs.”
In light of the “spring weather pattern upon us,” Merritt asked LCMS Lutherans to “please consider supporting the disaster-response program of the LCMS so that we can provide assistance to local LCMS congregations and districts as they respond to the needs of those affected by this severe weather.”
For the LCMS, the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod Tornado Relief Fund allows the Synod to hit the ground running when disaster strikes. Following the unprecedented number of tornadoes in 2011, the fund is entering the 2012 storm season — which on Feb. 29 brought deadly tornadoes to several Midwestern states — with limited resources. Your contribution today will enable us to respond in Christ’s name when and where there is a need following a tornado or other damaging storm.
- Make an online donation.
- Mail checks (noting “Tornado Disaster Relief” in the memo line) to The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, P.O. Box 66861, St. Louis, MO 63166-6861.
- Call toll-free 888-930-4438.
Any funds not needed for this relief effort will be used for other disaster purposes as determined by Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod Disaster Relief. Your gift is tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.
Posted March 2, 2012