Episcopal Relief & Development is working closely with Episcopal Community Services of Louisiana and their partner Bayou Grace Community Services to reach affected coastal communities in Louisiana's five-bayou Terrebonne Parish, southwest of New Orleans.
"We're working to leverage our existing ministries and connections in the region to reach people who are falling through the cracks," said Katie Mears, Episcopal Relief & Development's program manager for USA Disaster Preparedness and Response. "This is happening because they can't access sufficient resources, whether because of transportation challenges, lack of information or uncertainty about the different avenues they might pursue for assistance."
More than a month after the April 20 offshore oil rig explosion that killed 11 people and caused a massive oil spill that has poured more than 20 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, fishing grounds and oyster beds remain closed, leaving those who earn a living from fishing, shrimping, oyster harvesting and other related businesses without the means to support their families.
Terrebonne Parish is home to many fishermen and their families, who now find themselves in need. To date, the region doesn't have an emergency food stamp program. Because of the 10-day waiting period for the standard food stamp program, families cannot get critical assistance when they find themselves in need. In addition, many families do not have the necessary information to make informed decisions about taking out loans or accepting financial settlements related to the spill.
"Episcopal Community Services of Louisiana is proud to support the resilient and hard-working residents of our fishing communities, whose livelihoods and very way of life are so gravely threatened by this disaster," said Nell Bolton, ECSLA's executive director. "As the long-term implications of the spill begin to sink in for all of us, we know that the church needs to be a steady partner through these challenging times. ECSLA is also fortunate to be in partnership with Bayou Grace, with whom we share many values and whose local networks are invaluable to being able to reach the people most in need of our help."
Critical support will include distributing grocery cards that can be redeemed at local stores, gas cards for those who must travel to reach stores and distributing food items directly from the Dulac Community Center. In addition to food assistance, volunteers will provide legal assistance, pastoral care and information referrals both at the Bayou Grace office in Chauvin and with the help of an ECSLA vehicle. The vehicle will travel through the area on a set schedule, bringing information to those unable to travel to Chauvin.
"By helping to meet basic needs for food, providing information and pastoral care and offering guidance to address legal questions, we'll be able to assist families and communities in the face of ongoing anxiety and financial hardship," said Mears. "It will be extremely effective to tap into the existing network of churches and community centers in the area, because leaders connected with these sites already have a good understanding of the people in need in their communities."
To learn more about Episcopal Relief & Development's work or make a donation, please visit www.er-d.org or call 1-800-334-7626, ext. 5129. Gifts can be mailed to Episcopal Relief & Development, PO Box 7058, Merrifield, VA 22116-7058.