Checking-In Post Harvey and Irma

As you likely know this late summer brought utter devastation to communities throughout South Texas and Florida due to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and the flooding aftermath as well. Associate Director of Portland Seminary Master’s Programs John Regier and Community Life Outreach Coordinator Deanna Gemmer reached out to a few of our Seminary students who live in these storm-ravaged communities. We asked for their personal stories, how their churches and communities are caring for their neighbors, and ways we might serve them as well. Read on to hear their reports.

Mario Hood – Orlando, Florida
“One of the major issues because of Hurricane Irma is that millions lost power and hundreds or thousands are still without power including many in our church. Unfortunately our church was not able to respond as quickly as we would like as it was not restored power until 3 and a half days later. Many people in our church family are still without power and are running low on food. Now that we have power at the church we are opening it up to everyone for wifi access, snacks, and A/C which is a major necessity in Florida.
Our food bank runs weekly (and serves around 300 people) and we are needing to restock immediately because of the major needs in the church and community.  Due to power outages, many families had to throw away all of their food. We want to bless them with financial gifts so they can restore what they have lost. “

You can send donations to Mario’s Church to help them restock their food pantry here.

Terra McDaniel – Austin, Texas
“Austin escaped any major issues from Harvey other than a few days of heavy winds and rains. However, since we spent almost a decade in Houston and have family that live on the coast, we know many people who are directly impacted. My husband’s sister and her family evacuated to our house from Rockport (near Corpus Christi where the storm first made landfall). Her husband is a pastor at Coast Oaks Baptist and has been coordinating donations and help for the many families impacted there. While their home escaped major damage, this was not so for many.
In the Beaumont/Port Arthur area, where some of the heaviest rains fell (50 inches in some areas), my friend Carrie Graham is coordinating adoption of classrooms and grade levels for this school year as they recover. Carrie says that some teachers have lost all supplies and furniture in their classrooms, some classes have relocated to churches because there are not enough salvageable classrooms to use, and one area school district isn’t even trying to start classes until October.
Some of us who are part of New Table, the community I lead, came together to put together welcome kits for evacuees with basics like a pillow, blanket, toothbrush, etc (pic below). The larger effort of getting these kits to people who need them was through Austin Disaster Relief.”

Terra’s community gathered for a photo before working to put together evacuee kits.
Evacuee kits, one per individual.
Cleanup crew in Port Arthur.


From Terra: “My godson Myles drew these so people who lost everything could have a nice picture. I told him I remembered someone bringing us a drawing like that after our fire and how encouraging it was.”

You can donate to the efforts of Coast Oaks Baptist Church here.
You can find out about how to adopt a classroom in Beaumont/Port Arthur here.

Cynthia Ownby – Houston, Texas

“I live in West Houston, an area that flooded from the Bayou and both reservoirs. Our church has 7 families who lost everything, and 8 more with significant damage. This week is our first chance to get into some of the homes, as the water is still going down. The community and unity down here has been amazing; God is at work in our neighbors! Our church has been working with several other churches through the CCSC, and is going through neighborhoods doing demo, working with FEMA, and helping to replace what was lost. We are so grateful for all of the support and prayers we have received from all over the US; it is such an encouragement and a blessing! Keep praying; it is going to take months to rebuild. If you want to help from afar, donate to churches who are working. Gift cards are also helpful to allow families to buy clothes, house supplies, food, etc. We also have an amazon gift list for one family in need who lost everything (twice in less than two years) if you are inclined to help out!”

You can purchase items from Amazon to support a family from Cynthia’s church here.

Josh Reed – Ocala, Florida

“The name Irma means something now. It was a storm that hit nearly all of Florida and the Carribean. That name will be remembered like Andrew, Sandy, and Charlie. But more names have emerged: Susan, Doug, Dan, Terri, Josh, Ron, Kami. These names each represent so much more than Irma can ever mean. Irma came, damaged, and left. These names are here to serve a name greater than their own. We name storms to give them an identity and classify them, each of us has a name and carry with us an identity greater than any wind or rain can conquer, Jesus. To join with these names, you can be in prayer for us and donate.”

Josh’s church has opened its doors as a special needs shelter during the storm recovery.

Josh suggested donating to Samaritan’s Purse or any Salvation Army group in Florida. In addition, donations can be made to care for those in Barbuda and the Virgin Islands.

Stephanie Townes – Houston, Texas

“I live in a far southern suburb of Houston, close to the Texas Gulf Coast. During the initial stages of Hurricane Harvey, my area missed the worst of the rain and flooding. However, all that rain has to go somewhere, so we spent a cautious week of watchful waiting while the water from Houston moved down river towards our neighborhoods. My neighborhood was spared, but friends in nearby neighborhoods were not. Some, who just finished rebuilding from the Brazos River flooding last summer, were flooded again.

Working for the Episcopal Diocese of Texas (EDOT), I have been able to witness and help with disaster relief on a larger scale. My diocese, alongside Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD), has been activated for all three stages of recovery: search and rescue, emergency relief, and finally long-term recovery. As the water drained, we have moved from rescue into the current stage of emergency relief. The Venerable Russ Oeschel, Archdeacon of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas and head of Texas ERD, says that 85% of the mucking and gutting, the process of ripping flooded homes down to the studs, is now done in the Houston area. Now the diocese is working on rental relief for displaced renters, which is an especially difficult issue for our undocumented neighbors, as well as working to match skills and gifts with needs across the diocese. One partnership made was Christ Church Cathedral offering a large tent to San Mateo-Houston so that they could worship outside since San Mateo’s worship space and offices were flooded. ERD is coordinating pastoral care teams of clergy and lay people to listen and care for people affected by the hurricane and flooding, and local parishes have been out in their neighborhoods, doing the missional work of Christ by meeting needs as they hear them, from providing meals to setting up pop-up laundromats. ERD is also gearing up to begin long-term recovery efforts by setting up locations throughout the affected areas to coordinate rebuilding work, which they expect to be at least a three-year process.

Of course, we welcome your prayers as we continue in recovery towards what a Florida emergency worker and Hurricane Andrew survivor doing search and rescue work here in Houston suggested: to get back to normal as soon as we can.”

The front yard of Stephanie’s friend and parishioner.


Mucking and gutting a home to salvage what they can of the structure.


San Mateo worshipping under a tent.

A GoFundMe has been set up to help Stephanie’s friend and parishioner who was affected by Harvey after recovering from flooding earlier this summer.

ERD’s Harvey Response fund is here and EDOT’s Harvey Response and Relief information is here.

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