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PA churches reach out

In front of one Washington Crossing resident’s home is a homemade sign that reads, “Biannual Riverfront Dining – Flood attire expected.”


"We’ve done a lot of emotional and spiritual support so far."

—Cathy Day

In front of one Washington Crossing resident’s home is a homemade sign that reads, “Biannual Riverfront Dining – Flood attire expected.”

The home, in a neighborhood along the Delaware River, is one of few homes on the street that did not flood two weeks ago. Several neighboring homes are condemned, and soggy furniture and other belongings sit in piles or dumpsters along the road.

The congregation of Washington Crossing United Methodist Church (WCUMC) has been busy the past two weeks helping these and many other flood-affected residents around Washington Crossing, New Hope and Upper Makefield. Flood recovery experience from last September during Hurricane Ivan proved very beneficial to the church.

“The first time we learned, and now we know what to do,” said the Rev. Scott McDermott, senior pastor of WCUMC. “We knew the families would need information about the assistance forms they’d be filling out, as well as about their wells, septic systems, and more. So we made packets of this type of information and went door-to-door to hand it out.”

Those door-to-door visits also enabled church members to assess what other needs were surfacing. During last September’s flood recovery, the church also learned that the quick preparation and distribution of food to the public was crucial, as was promptly setting up portable toilets and providing emotional and spiritual care.

Many families were suffering their second major flood in six months – something that weighed heavily upon them. Several families were still living in temporary housing from the last flood.

“We’ve done a lot of emotional and spiritual support so far,” said Cathy Day, WCUMC administrator. “We’ve prayed with people, and they’ve really been opening up.”

Other services church volunteers have been providing include tearing out waterlogged carpet and drywall, and shoveling out the piles of mud the river brought into people’s homes. Day added that several members also took photos of and videotaped homeowners’ damage so that the residents could expedite some insurance payments by giving the footage to their insurance companies.

McDermott said the outpouring of help from the church has made him proud, and shows faith in action. “When this flooding happened again, I went to the church and said we need to respond to this – we can’t just sit up here on the hill,” he recalled.

“If a church is just staying within their walls and just praying, then we’re wasting our time, and our faith isn’t worth much. And our people rallied, and so did our community.”

WCUMC’s quick response made it a valuable resource to the city and township government, added McDermott, noting that information sharing was crucial during initial flood response.

The church is also focusing on those who had no insurance this time. “We are looking for more residents in need,” said the Rev. Dave Cottrell, executive pastor of WCUMC. “We just found an elderly woman who had no insurance or help, so we took care of her.”

More volunteers are calling in each day, said Cottrell, which is a sign of how well residents take care of each other. He hopes that some volunteers will be able to adopt a family and work with that family throughout the recovery.

WCUMC is working with other community groups and churches as well. From just up the road in New Hope, members of Thompson Memorial Presbyterian Church are pitching in.

“We’re working with three families so far, helping them clean up and tear out drywall,” said the Rev. Stuart Spencer, senior pastor at Thompson Memorial. “We’ve also provided meals for the other relief workers.”

The flood also affected 10 members of the church, but fortunately most of it was not severe. Spencer estimates between 30 and 40 members of his church have been active in the recovery thus far.

“We’re just trying to be present during this by offering our hands-on support. There’s been a heartfelt desire to help any way we can – and all the volunteers stepping forward to help can’t help but strengthen the community.”

Right now, Spencer’s congregation is participating in community work days as they are organized. They are also preparing a list of members who have homes, apartments or rooms for the affected families who may need temporary living spaces until their homes are repaired.

Spencer also agrees that the emotional, spiritual and psychological needs after this disaster will last for years. He said his church and other local churches will work to be aware of and address those needs as they can.

Back across town in the Delaware Shores neighborhood of Washington Crossing, Day, McDermott, and Cottrell are walking through the drying mud and debris to check on neighbors. “Some of these homes had seven to eight feet of water in them,” noted McDermott.

At the “biannual riverfront dining” home, a resident praised the three church workers – and all the volunteers for their commitment to the neighborhood.

“You folks didn’t forget us, you remembered us,” she said, tears welling up in her eyes. “You’re amazing to just come in here and help.”

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