Faith-based groups help WV

Faith-based disaster response groups are helping the homeless and hungry in flood-stricken West Virginia.

BY TRAVIS DUNN | CHARLESTON, W. Va. | June 23, 2003

Faith-based disaster relief groups are working to bring help to the homeless and hungry in the flood-stricken mountains of West Virginia.

This is the worst flooding in 40 years for Kanawha County and the Charleston area, said William Barker, director of the Appalachian Regional Ministries. Barker is one of the dozens of Southern Baptist volunteers running a mobile kitchen at the Cathedral of Prayer in Charleston.

"It's kind of funny how one valley will get hit and the next one won't," said Mike Oberschmidt, coordinator of the volunteers here.

"We get a lot of flooding here in West Virginia, but usually it's down south in the coalfields," said the Rev. Brett Edwards, pastor at the Cathedral of Prayer. "It's been since '61 since something of this magnitude in Kanawha County.

The kitchen set up on the Friday after the flooding, Oberschmidt said, and the 17 volunteers have been cooking up two meals a day, many of them distributed around the area by five American Red Cross emergency response vehicles. They've been doing a lot of cooking on Saturday, June 21, they cranked out about 1,600 meals.

Most of the volunteers hail from Virginia, with some from West Virginia, Georgia and North Carolina, and Oberschmidt expects a completely new crew to replace his current workers on Tuesday night.

Edwards is used to having volunteers living in his church during the summer; he has room for as many as 120 of them.

"Generally, all summer long we have volunteers from all over the country doing something for somebody in West Virginia," he said.

For example, he had a ministry group from Georgia scheduled to arrive just after the flooding in mid-June. Now they're helping out with disaster relief.

"We wound up putting them to work on other things," he said.

While all these volunteers are working to help people all over Kanawha County, Edwards is trying to provide immediate help to the seven families in his congregation who were affected by the flood. Two of them lost their homes.

Edwards even called off a few services in order to send out his congregation to help the needy families.

"Naturally our first response is to them," he said.

Barker, however, is concerned about flood survivors in the southern coalfields of West Virginia, who may not get the help available to residents of the Charleston suburbs.

People near Charleston "will get the grants in here to repair this damage," Barker said. "But down south they're going to suffer for a long time. The further south you get, the poorer they get. They may just lose a single-wide (trailer home), but that's all they've got."

Southern West Virginia is exactly where the Southern Baptists will have to focus their long-term efforts, he said.

"A lot of times what the Baptists will do is try to focus on those areas that don't get help," he said.

Meanwhile, the local Salvation Army is winding down its first response work, said Major Joyce Michels of The Salvation Army Charleston Citadel.

For the most part, The Salvation Army spent ten days sending out meals in three vans, providing food for more than 3,000 people, she said. The Salvation Army also provided more than 215 cleaning kits and 400 gallons of water.

Michel's first concern, however, was her immediate neighborhood: the first place to flood, Garrison Avenue, is not even two blocks from the Citadel.

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