United Methodists observing the first anniversary of devastating floods in Louisiana are looking for more volunteer teams to help the most vulnerable of the storm’s survivors get back on their feet.
"The response from our sisters and brothers from our United Methodist connection and beyond has been extraordinary, but the needs are still great,” said Louisiana Area Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey. “We are known for hanging in for the long haul. This response will be no different as we count on the continued support of many.”
The hundreds of volunteers who came to help earlier in the summer have dropped off now that school has started again, said the Rev. Laraine Waughtal, who leads the Louisiana Conference’s office of missional outreach and engagement.
Waughtal is coordinating a flood-recovery response that includes at least half the state, from the middle to the south. It includes places like Lafayette, Zachary, Hammond and Baton Rouge and Denham Springs, where churches were affected and United Methodists were among those displaced from their homes by floodwaters.
Volunteer teams for Louisiana flood-recovery work are encouraged to register for time slots through August 2018. Individual volunteers should connect with a local United Methodist church to form a team.
Questions can be directed to Glenda Worm, Volunteer Coordinator at DisasterResponseVC@la-umc.org.
More information on Louisiana Conference disaster response
“In those areas alone, there are over 152,000 people that made FEMA applications for assistance because of the flooding,” Waughtal said.
Some residents had as much as 8 feet of water in their homes and many had no flood insurance because flooding had never occurred in the area before, she added.
The August 2016 disaster was the result of a slow-moving storm and what the National Weather Service called a “1,000-year rain” that dropped more than 2 feet of rain across the state’s southern region. The impact of the floods, which left 13 dead, led to a disaster declaration for 22 parishes by the Federal Emergency Management Association.
At the time, Waughtal was serving as the coordinator of disaster response and United Methodist Volunteers in Mission for the Central Texas Conference. The recovery work from multiple disasters there was winding down when Louisiana Bishop Cynthia Harvey called and asked for her help.
“I knew God was calling me to do this,” Waughtal said. She succeeds Debra T. Davis, who had taken a temporary assignment to lead the conference’s flood-relief efforts.
There is enough funding and resources to pay for case managers and construction leaders through December 2018, Waughtal said.
“We’ve gotten lots of great support across the state as well as from other conferences,” she said. However, she added that both funds and volunteers are still needed.
The church’s efforts continue to focus on the elderly, disabled and single-parent households with children — those “who just don’t have the means to recover,” she noted.
Needed work includes putting up insulation and sheetrock, painting, flooring and building decks and wheelchair ramps. “I don’t think we have any complete rebuilds, it’s all home repairs,” she said.
The Louisiana Conference is relying not just on financial gifts from United Methodists but the fruits of their labor. “When volunteers work, that cuts our costs in half because we don’t have to hire contractors,” she explained.
Teams of volunteers aged 13 and older are encouraged to register for time slots through August 2018 and specific skills are not required. “For those who don’t have the skills, they’ll learn while they’re here,” Waughtal said.
The financial gifts for flood recovery have come from individuals and other conferences and through the United Methodist Committee on Relief. The conference received a $510,000 grant from UMCOR for its initial response to the flooding and the recovery-program launch. Through the end of 2018, the conference will receive another $859,839 to provide direct assistance to some 200 flood-affected households. Of those, at least 150 households will receive disaster case management services, while the other 50 households will be assisted by other partnering agencies.
The Louisiana Conference has designated representatives with most of the 17 Long Term Recovery Groups that have formed to help fill the unmet need for housing assistance, estimated at $2.44 billion.
“Because of the financial generosity that we have from UMCOR and from individuals and conferences, The United Methodist Church is one of the leaders at the unmet needs table that is helping people recover,” Waughtal said. “We want to make sure when we’re last out we’ve reached everybody who needs help.”
Bloom is the assistant news editor for United Methodist News Service and is based in New York.