Days after hurricane Katrina devastated Mississippi and New Orleans in late August, Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold met with the director of Episcopal Migration Ministries at the Episcopal Church Center in New York and asked the church’s refugee resettlement arm to respond.
“EMM was on the ground immediately, assessing the needs of those who had evacuated to Beaumont, Texas, many of whom have since been welcomed by sponsors across the country,” said the Rev. John Denaro, EMM staff officer for church relations and outreach. “We continue to work with the displaced in other areas where evacuees are still in transition.”
For decades, EMM has helped refugees from overseas restart their lives with the help of congregational sponsors. Now, it has launched a model – EMM Hurricane Response: In Service to Neighbor – to match U.S. evacuees with sponsoring congregations and church institutions.
Sponsors find independent, freestanding housing for evacuees and provide a wide range of other services.
“Hurricane victims will come into their new community with very little of their own personal possessions and very few financial resources,” Denaro said. “They will need basic necessities, assistance finding employment and [help] registering children into schools. They may also need assistance to apply for medical benefits and social services.”
Most sponsorships will last three to six months, Denaro predicted, adding that evacuees’ needs vary. “Some families will require as little as a few weeks to one month of support from a congregation, while others may choose to re-establish themselves permanently in their new communities.” EMM received almost 2,000 offers of sponsorship from parishes and dioceses. Several hundred church communities have welcomed as many as 500 evacuees.
The Rev. Patricia Templeton, rector of St. Dunstan’s Church in Atlanta, welcomed a family consisting of a mother, 20, her husband, 18, their three children – between ages 3 and 5 – and a teen-age cousin. The group left their New Orleans apartment one week after the storm because of a lack of food and water. They traveled to Beaumont and found a place to live but had to evacuate quickly because of Hurricane Rita, Templeton said. “They bought bus tickets, arrived in Atlanta not knowing anyone here and found their way to FEMA, which placed them in a hotel with 400 other evacuees for a month.”
Meanwhile, parish officials were seeking more ways to help hurricane victims. “The congregation had made thousands of dollars in financial contributions right after the storm, but we wanted to be involved in a hands-on way,” said Templeton. “The diocese had a meeting about how to sponsor a family of evacuees, at which time we decided that this would be a good thing for us to do. We then had a meeting at the church and decided to sponsor a family.”
In October, the family was placed in an apartment that the church found and furnished. The church planned to pay all the bills – including rent, utilities and food – for three months and help the parents find employment. The children and the cousin were enrolled in school.
“The model has been helpful to bring people together to do something that we find is very worthwhile,” said Templeton. “ It is a good way to live out our faith. It has brought people in the congregation closer together as they work on a common project.” “This effort has enlivened the generous, mission-driven spirit of our church,” Denaro concluded. “We envision the compassionate response of faithful Episcopalians to fellow Americans extending to all of the uprooted people EMM will continue to serve.”
Potential sponsors are encouraged to visit EMM’s website www.episcopalchurch.org/emm to learn more about sponsorship and to register their interest.