From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Arkansas relief efforts

Date 06 May 1996 17:18:30

"UNITED METHODIST DAILY NEWS" by SUSAN PEEK on Aug. 11, 1991 at 13:58 Eastern,

Note 2950 by UMNS on May 6, 1996 at 16:26 Eastern (5310 characters).

SEARCH: tornado, relief, damage, Arkansas, United Methodists, Fort

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CONTACT: Linda Green                              236(10-71){2950}
         Nashville, Tenn. (615) 742-5470               May 6, 1996

Arkansas church workers cope 
with tornado's aftermath

by Jane Dennis*

     LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- United Methodists are helping victims
cope with the aftermath of the April 21 tornado that devastated
Fort Smith and Van Buren in northwest Arkansas.
     United Methodist churches in the area have been active in
relief work since the morning after the midnight tornado damaged
or destroyed more than 3,000 homes, caused $500 million in
property damage, and left four people dead and more than 100
     A Red Cross shelter was established immediately at St. Paul
United Methodist Church in Fort Smith. More than 100 church
members helped prepare hot meals serving from 300 to 1,000 people
each day, said the Rev. Paul Bokker, St. Paul's pastor. Working
with the Salvation Army, they also delivered meals to relief
workers and people guarding homes and possessions.
     Church members collected clothing, food and supplies such as
plastic sheeting for covering damaged roofs and windows, ice
chests, trash bags and work gloves. The church's weekly free
medical clinic was activated to full time, with volunteer medical
personnel providing care ranging from tetanus shots to replacing
     St. Paul members also are helping distribute donated items
that have come streaming in from around the country -- including
toys from Today's Kids and 500 refrigerators given by Whirlpool.
     Similar feeding stations and relief centers have been
operated at City Heights and Heritage United Methodist churches,
both in Van Buren. The City Heights church has provided up to 400
meals a day and delivered meals to the local fire station, police
station and sheriff's office. Heritage members have offered free
baby-sitting services and sponsored a fellowship support meeting
that enabled tornado victims and relief workers to share their
experiences and pray together.
     First United Methodist Church, Fort Smith, is headquarters
for the local Interfaith Disaster Recovery Center, as well as a
Red Cross assistance site. The United Methodist Committee on
Relief (UMCOR) has approved a $28,000 emergency seed grant that
will help keep the center open for a year.
     The Interfaith Center is currently helping area residents
with cleaning up debris and will later organize volunteer work
crews to help rebuild damaged homes, according to the Rev. Carolyn
Tyler Stephens, associate pastor of First Church, who is serving
as center director. Volunteers from several denominations --
including Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Christian Church
(Disciples of Christ) and Baptists -- are involved in the center,
Stephens said.
     In addition, a satellite office of the Interfaith Center has
opened at Heritage United Methodist Church, Van Buren, and Bill
Huey, a member of Fort Smith's Goddard United Methodist Church,
has been named coordinator of volunteers.
     According to the Rev. Tom Hazelwood, chairman of the
Interfaith Disaster Recovery Council, the churches are focusing
their efforts on meeting the unmet needs of storm survivors.
"We're trying to identify those who do not meet the criteria of
FEMA, Red Cross and other helping agencies. We know that there are
many people with special needs and as a faith community, we want
to make sure no one 'falls through the cracks.'"
     "Having grown up in Kansas, I know tornadoes," said Arkansas
Bishop Richard B. Wilke. "But I have never seen such a ravaged
area, where miles of houses are destroyed."
     Wilke toured the region April 29, offering his gratitude and
encouragement to disaster victims and church and community
workers. He has asked Arkansas' nearly 800 churches to take a
special offering to aid the disaster relief efforts.
     Damage to United Methodist property was relatively minor.   
UMCOR disaster relief specialists and coordinators from United
Methodism's North Arkansas Conference were among the first to
offer on-site assessment and assistance.
     On April 23, President Clinton declared the region a national
disaster, making residents in a six-county area eligible for
federal assistance. Disaster specialists have warned that the
recovery process may take up to two years.
     Volunteer-In-Mission teams and individuals may call the
Interfaith Disaster Recovery Center's toll free number (800) 792-
1168, or (501) 782-1794, for more information.
     Contributions to assist with tornado relief efforts may be
channeled through UMCOR's Domestic Disaster Response Fund, Advance
No. 901670-1.
                               # # #

     * Dennis is editor of the Arkansas United Methodist, the
newspaper of the Little Rock and North Arkansas United Methodist


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