Churches unite in NJ

A stack of waterlogged furniture sits outside Medford United Methodist Church.

BY HEATHER MOYER | MEDFORD, N.J. | July 19, 2004

A stack of waterlogged furniture sits outside Medford United Methodist Church, a soggy reminder of last week's flooding in south central New Jersey.

The church's basement flooded quickly last Monday, soaking couches and forcing out several homeless families staying at the church for the week.

Early Friday morning, Pastor Jana Purkis-Brash stood in the basement of the church, surveying the damage. Above the din of the fans, Purkis-Brash listed what succumbed to the flooding. "Besides the furniture, we'll have to replace the church's furnaces, and some of the floor tiles will also need to be replaced," she explained. "Our church insurance policy doesn't cover floods, though."

Yet Purkis-Brash thinks her church got off easy compared to the surrounding communities. Last week's flooding devastated south central New Jersey. The Burlington County towns of Medford, Medford Lakes, Pemberton, Lumberton and Vincentown were hardest hit. Overall, seven homes were destroyed, 110 homes suffered major damage, and 90 homes suffered minor damage.

The area has experienced flooding before, said Purkis-Brash, but the extent of last week's flooding was very surprising. Several members of the Medford church had flooded homes, with one family even having to flee to their home's roof to escape the quick-rising water. Other parishioners also dealt with roof leaks.

And like Medford United Methodist Church, Purkis-Brash said many in the flooded areas don't have flood insurance either.

Friday morning saw the beginning of help for affected families. Outside the basement door of the church were two pallets of flood buckets, fresh off the truck from the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), Bread of Life, Bethesda Mission, and the Convoy of Hope.

The Convoy of Hope dropped off the flood buckets that morning at several area churches to be distributed to the flood families. The buckets include cleaning supplies to help residents mop up what floods leave behind.

Friday also saw a federal emergency declaration for New Jersey. President Bush declared a major disaster for the state, opening the way for the use of federal funds to help meet the recovery needs of flood-stricken families and businesses there.

Residents of Lumberton welcomed that announcement. Lumberton is just up the road from Medford. Yet most of last week, it took a round-a-bout trip along several different roads to find a way into Lumberton. Standing water closed roads for days before receding.

In front of Lumberton United Methodist Church late Friday morning, Pastor Andrew Glos was helping volunteers unload flood buckets from the same truck that stopped in Medford earlier.

"We had a couple parishioners flooded," said Glos, pastor of the Lumberton church. "Most of the water has receded now, but the big show was Tuesday - everything was flooded around here."

Call it a special Lumberton initiation for Glos, who had just started as the church's pastor two weeks before.

One volunteer pointed that out to Gloss. "Boy, your just moving here in time for this isn't a baptism by fire - it's a baptism by water," laughed Don Stitzinger-Clark.

Glos just smiled. He is no stranger to disasters, having dealt with floods at several of his previous church assignments in northern New Jersey and New York. "I seem to be the constant in all these situations - God is not without a sense of humor," he laughed, pausing for a moment to lean against the pallet of flood buckets. "Yet this time is different - this is the first time in my dealings with floods that the church hasn't flooded as well."

Yet the Episcopal church down the street from Lumberton UMC wasn't as lucky, and neither were hundreds of residents throughout the area. Lumberton UMC had already fielded many calls for help and numerous residents stopping by for help as well.

The affected families in Lumberton will deal with the same problems as the other affected communities - many are uninsured.

"These are not wealthy areas," explained June Stitzinger-Clark, disaster response coordinator for the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. "Also, these are small towns, and some have a hard time coordinating donations."

Many Burlington County residents rely on well water, most of which was contaminated by the flood. Due to that, there is now a significant need for bottled water, said Stitzinger-Clark.

Take another short drive up the road from Medford and Lumberton, and you'll find the even smaller Vincentown. Houses line Vincentown's short Main Street, each with a porch covered in flowers and many also displaying an American flag.

Again, the town's Methodist church went undamaged, but the Episcopal church around the corner on Mill Street flooded. Vincentown United Methodist Church is housing the Episcopal church services until repairs are complete.

Along many of the roads through Medford, Lumberton and Vincentown, piles of water-damaged furniture, rolls of carpet, and other belongings sit in front of homes. In some yards, large ponds of standing water remain. Wooded areas are filled with debris, much of it still stuck to trees and bushes from the powerful currents. Many roads are also closed because of bridge failures.

The flood buckets, which Vincentown United Methodist Church also received, are just the beginning of a long-term recovery in Burlington County, New Jersey. Stitzinger-Clark said the state's Methodist representatives will hold a meeting Thursday at the Medford church to discuss needs.

In the meantime, local volunteers are stepping in as needed. Back at Lumberton United Methodist Church, Greg Waterman is also helping Glos unload flood buckets. Waterman is in Lumberton for a work assignment. A New Yorker, his company helps dry and restore water-damaged documents. Yet he said it's still a little early for them to be receiving calls for help just yet.

"I was sitting in my hotel waiting for calls, so I thought I should come help out," he said. "Just call it one church member helping another."

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