Remembering Katrina: Recovery continuing with Episcopal Church’s help

Hurricane's fury will be remembered with prayers
August 22, 2006

Episcopalians will join with their neighbors all over the Gulf Coast to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the days when Hurricane Katrina devastated the region.

Commemorations on both the congregational and diocesan level are planned in the dioceses of Louisiana and Mississippi. In some instances, Episcopalians will participate in ecumenical and interfaith prayer services, and will join with relief agencies to commemorate the events of August 27-30.

Meanwhile, long-term recovery work, including the involvement of Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD) and Episcopal Migration Ministries, continues and there is still a need for volunteer workers to help those efforts (see related story).

In addition, the Episcopal Church, the Episcopal Church Foundation and the dioceses of Louisiana and Mississippi have formed a partnership to raise $6.5 million in the first phase of a campaign to reconstruct church buildings, insure compensation for clergy while congregations regain self-sufficiency, create new opportunities for church schools and establish ministry centers. By August 9, the Darkness into Day effort had raised $1.2 million, according to Rebecca McDonald, Episcopal Church Foundation marketing director.

More information about Darkness into Day is available online.

In May 2006, a report from the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs said that Katrina was the most destructive natural disaster in American history, laying waste to 90,000 square miles of land, an area the size of the United Kingdom. In Mississippi, the storm surge obliterated coastal communities and left thousands destitute. New Orleans was overwhelmed by flooding. All told, more than 1,500 people died.

During the response efforts of Hurricane Katrina, the Gulf of Mexico saw another dangerous storm, Hurricane Rita, which made landfall as a Category 3 at the Louisiana and Texas boarder.

"As a result of these storms and the human suffering inflicted by Hurricane Katrina, the Episcopal Churches on the ground started providing immediate needs to the disaster victims," said Richard Ohlsen, ERD's director of Domestic Disaster Response and Preparedness.

$15 million from donors

ERD, "though the enormous generosity" of countless Episcopalians and Anglicans around the world, provided the dioceses of Louisiana and Mississippi with the money and support to engage in ministry for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. ERD received $15 million in donations and has spent more than $8.6 million in initial and long-term recovery efforts in both dioceses. The remainder of these funds has been committed to the ongoing and unmet needs for Katrina survivors. Thus far, ERD and its partners have served more than 150,000 people in the Gulf Coast.

"ERD is committed to support the rebuilding of lives and livelihoods over the next three to five years in the Gulf Coast," said Abagail Nelson, ERD's vice president for program.

This work involves supporting activities such as mobile meal delivery and respite centers, medical and mental-health clinics, volunteer housing efforts, case management, micro-business start-ups, restoration of community-based services, and other activities. Part of the goal is to find ways to mitigate the effects of future natural disasters on effected communities, including creating interfaith and community network that can develop response plans.

Major New Orleans housing initiative

According to estimates by New Orleans' officials, much of the city's infrastructure was destroyed or severely damaged and less than 40 percent of the city's population has returned.

"ERD will support the diocese's Office of Disaster Response (ODR) as its programs continue to minister to people in New Orleans," said Nelson.

A major initiative of ODR is the Jericho Road Episcopal Housing Initiative's plan to develop affordable housing in the Central City neighborhood. Jericho Road was formed as a partnership between the diocese, ERD and Whitney Community Development Corp. ERD provided an initial sum of $2.3 million to be used for administrative management, property acquisition and construction. The program will result in an investment in the New Orleans Central City neighborhood of more than $20 million. Jericho Road was recently awarded 50 lots by the city of New Orleans for the first phase of construction. The plan is to construct 500 homes over five years.

ERD is working with Lutheran Episcopal Services of Mississippi (LESM) and the diocese to provide financial support and technical expertise to Camp Coast Care, an outreach ministry serving needs after Hurricane Katrina that provides support to people affected by the disaster and fills the unmet needs not covered by insurance or disaster relief. The ministry offers financial and spiritual assistance and coordinates volunteer work teams that rebuild devastated homes.

Additionally, ERD received close to $3 million to provide case management to victims of Hurricane Katrina across the country. This money is part of a larger grant awarded to the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to create a consortium of non-profit agencies to provide victims with case management. ERD is a member of this consortium.

The goal of ERD's case-management work through the UMCOR grant is to help those evacuated from Mississippi and Louisiana develop personal recovery plans and to assist victims in the overwhelming process of applying for disaster assistance. ERD has partnered with Episcopal Migration Ministries to manage the Katrina Aid Today Case Management Program, which is serving 1,021 evacuee families in Connecticut, Kentucky, Minnesota and Texas.

Congregational and diocesan partnerships

In the days immediately after Hurricane Katrina, efforts began to assess the needs of those hit by the storms and coordinate ways of meeting those needs. Out of those efforts grew the "We Will Stand With You" program being run by the Church's Office of the Bishop Suffragan for Chaplaincies that enables people to assist those in need.

There was such an outpouring of people who wanted to help that storm-ravaged congregations and dioceses had trouble coping with the generosity as they struggled to cope with their losses and their grief one day at a time.

Many of the offers of help came from congregations and dioceses that already had relationships with their counterparts on the Gulf Coast. Those offers needed to be augmented with deliberate coordination so that all areas received aid and not just those with such previous relationships.

The need to ensure even distribution and to "capture the partnerships that were already in existence" formed the first phase of WSWY's four-phase program. That phase involved assessing specific needs and taking inventory of the resources being offered to meet the needs. This phase also allowed the staff in the Chaplaincies office to get an accurate inventory of all the work that was already being done.

The second phase involved matching those in need with those who can help. The actual work of those matches constituted WSWY's third phase. Evaluation and improvement is the last phase.