April 4, 2019, 10:15 a.m.
Since record flooding started in Nebraska last month, all kinds of groups have come together to support those in need. The state and federal governments, local and national non-profits, and schools have all contributed to keeping people safe and helping them get back on their feet. Faith communities have also played a vital role.
The gym at Trinity Lutheran Church and School in Fremont, Nebraska is back to its main purpose this week: gym class. A few weeks ago, it had a very different use: housing flood evacuees.
Anthony Gerber is director of ministry for Trinity Lutheran. He describes the shelter the church housed.
“This, I mean this is pretty much what housed everything. We had tables with different food, clothing, stuff like that,” Gerber said.
More evacuees also slept in the school’s chapel. The church served as a shelter for four days and housed nearly 130 people at one time.
The Red Cross sponsored the shelter, helping fund meals and supplies, but the volunteers were members of the church and the community. They kept track of what spots were available in the shelter, but Gerber says a lot of their time was spent on something else.
“Really our big volunteer hours were just spent with the evacuees. We had... lots of different people who came in and just said, ‘Hey, let’s do a puzzle. Let’s play cards.’ Cause we had a lot of kids who were staying here with their families, and the community absolutely came together to do everything they could to help," Gerber said.
Trinity Lutheran has also been taking and distributing donations for flood victims, including from around the country.
“We have Katie the Comfort Dog here at Trinity. She has been to multiple disasters throughout the U.S. so because of that, there have been donations that have come to us from people saying, ‘Hey we want to help Katie and her church,'” Gerber said.
Donations of supplies are also part of the Presbyterian Church’s response to flooding.
Gary Haller is co-chair of the Homestead Presbytery’s disaster response team. He says they’re putting together supplies for people who are cleaning up from flooding.
“That’s a bucket containing, well, cleaning supplies needed for getting the mud and stains and so forth off the walls. It’s got sponges, work gloves, clothes line, laundry detergent, and bars of soap and so forth, just to get them, that can’t make it to the store, to be able to just open up a bucket, pour water in it, and go to work cleaning their homes,” Haller said.
On Tuesday and Wednesday Haller visited affected areas and the Presbyterian churches there. Their needs go beyond cleaning supplies.
“Right now it is places for displaced families to stay during this time period, and also clothing, a little bit of clothing for the children and so a lot of the people that were displaced had to leave in a hurry so couldn’t take much,” Haller said.
Methodist churches are also putting together flood buckets. Earlier in the disaster, they distributed hygiene kits as well for people who had to leave quickly and might not have basics like toothpaste.
Todd Seifert is communications director for the Great Plains Conference of the United Methodist Church. He describes a form of outreach called early response teams.
“Their task is to go into areas after a natural disaster and help homeowners with the preliminary steps to getting their lives back on track,” Seifert said.
Those teams have special training to help clean out mud and tear down water-damaged drywall.
Seifert says the Methodist Church’s primary need right now is for financial contributions to support flood victims.
“The damage is so significant and the need is gonna be so great once the water finally gets out of the way and we can see what the personal property damage is, the financial assistance to help people with those, you know, replacing the drywall, replacing the insulation in a home. That gets expensive, and in many cases, these are homeowners that just don’t have those types of resources,” Seifert said.
The Catholic Archdiocese of Omaha is also taking financial contributions to help Nebraska communities affected by flooding. They will give grants to help purchase things like water, food, and building supplies.
While we couldn’t reach the Islamic Foundation of Lincoln or the Congregation Tifereth Israel, Gerber says he’s happy to see many faith communities come together in a time of need.
“The best part about this is this was really the church being the church. Jesus said, you know, ‘When I was hungry you gave me something to eat. When I was thirsty you gave me something to drink. When I was naked you clothed me, and when I was a stranger you brought me in.’ And it was, to see this community be the church to those in need, was just, it was awesome to see,” Gerber said.
Governor Pete Ricketts has declared Sunday, April 7 as a statewide day of prayer for those affected by flooding.