Just as Shelly Kerker was about to leave the Crossroads United Methodist Church in Washington, IL last Sunday, the pastors told the congregation and staff they needed to shelter-in-place immediately. An F4 tornado touched down close-by, tearing up at least 1,400 homes in the community.
“I could hear it pass around us,” Kerker said.
The church emerged relatively unscathed from the storm, and has since been serving as an American Red Cross shelter for tornado survivors.
Greg Forrester, The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) US Disaster Response executive, said that the Crossroads United Methodist Church as well as dozens of other United Methodist Churches across the midwest have opened their doors to tornado survivors, some within minutes after the storms struck.
Kerker, the church’s facilities coordinator, is helping families who have lost everything. She said she is amazed at the outpouring of compassion from across the country.
On behalf of tornado survivors and responders, she urged donors to strongly consider monetary donations over material goods. “We are at full capacity with donations,” she said. “There is a baseball stadium in Peoria that is completely full of stuff people have donated.”
She wants to comment on people’s incredible generosity — before pleading that this generosity needs to be appropriately directed: “Right now we can’t take any more clothing, for example. It’s been very overwhelming.”
Kerker — along with pastors, church staff, and local volunteers – has been ensuring that tornado survivors have the support and safety they need, 24 hours a day. “I have watched our church work and just be here for people. I’m amazed. It makes me proud to work here.”
“We also have UMCOR-trained Early Response Teams serving in the field in areas where it is safe to work,” Forrester said.
The deadly storms were part of a multi-state outbreak of tornadoes and powerful winds that caused damage not only in Illinois but in Missouri, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin. Six people died in Illinois and two were killed in Michigan. As many as 200 people were injured in Illinois alone, according to state emergency management reports, with as many as 120 of those injuries occurring in Washington.
As people filtered back into heavily damaged communities, Forrester emphasized that UMCOR is not only supporting the immediate response but will help strengthen the backbone of the response through long-term recovery, which could take years.
Kerker was grateful to hear Forrester’s perspective: “Please, yes, we’re asking that people think of us six months from now.”
How to Help
The best way to help midwest tornado survivors is via a monetary donation. Donate through the UMCOR US Disaster Response Advance #901670 on the website, via text or telephone, or by setting up an automated monthly withdrawal. Want to help in a hands-on fashion? Consider the UMCOR Relief-Supply Kits. Assembling or purchasing kits helps keep UMCOR’s Relief-Supply Network ready to quickly deliver vital goods into the hands of disaster survivors. Those who want to volunteer in areas impacted by the tornadoes should connect with their jurisdictional Volunteer in Mission coordinator to determine the appropriate time.
*Susan Kim is a journalist and a regular contributor to www.umcor.org.