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GA starts interfaith group

One woman has been to the hospital three times in the past few months with respiratory issues.

BY HEATHER MOYER | ST. MARY’S, Ga. | April 29, 2005

One woman has been to the hospital three times in the past few months with respiratory issues – and that may just be the beginning of a series of illnesses due to mold in some south Georgia homes. 

“We’re going to have so many health issues in the future due to this mold,” said Bob Tribble of Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR) in Georgia.  “It’s a dangerous environment to breathe in every day – it’s awful.”

Several south Georgia counties were hit hard during last September’s Hurricane Jeanne – including Charlton County, which did not receive a federal disaster declaration. Numerous residents of this poverty-stricken county are now living in homes full of black mold.

But an interfaith long-term recovery committee is forming to help out families in the area. The group will also assist some of the bordering northeast Florida counties that did receive federal declarations. The Rev. Barb Gibson will head up Relying on Interfaith Volunteers Engaged in Recovery (RIVER), referencing the St. Mary’s River which runs between the affected counties in both states.

“We’re starting this from scratch,” said Gibson, who pastors Joy Lutheran Church in St. Mary’s, Georgia. “This is brand new for us, no one around here has done a disaster relief interfaith before.”

With help from local and regional Presbyterian, United Methodist and Episcopal churches, as well as the national denominations, RIVER is just about ready to assist the families in need. The only thing holding up the group is the paperwork that would make it an official nonprofit, but Gibson estimates that will be completed in two weeks.

In the meantime, the American Red Cross has been helping keep track of families in need and engaging in a longer-than-usual care period for them, added Gibson. Gibson anticipates at least 12 families needing immediate help, but others will most likely surface once word gets out, she said. In the initial months after Jeanne struck, as many as 81 homes in Charlton County alone were reported to have suffered significant damage.

The first major issue RIVER will contend with is providing temporary homes for the families, some of whom have been living with friends or family since last fall and other who’ve had no choice but to stay in their mold-infested homes – like the woman Tribble mentioned.

“Charlton County is a poor county,” noted Gibson. “River basin land is cheap, and the folks who live there are low-income families. But they are still human beings and God’s children on this earth – and we as God’s church are called to help them.”

Already, monetary assistance is arriving via donations from LDR and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and will be used once the nonprofit status is attained. Gibson and Tribble are also seeking other funding sources. Possible future temporary housing will also be useful for incoming rebuild volunteers, Gibson added.

She noted that a local United Methodist Church that does regular home rebuild trips around the country may be utilized in some of the home repair process as well. Local churches also have a relationship with the regional Habitat for Humanity, so that may be utilized, too, she said.

Overall, everything is coming together, Gibson and Tribble agreed. “The process has moved slowly, but when it does come together – it will work,” said Tribble, who also serves as vice president of the Georgia chapter of Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters.

Gibson agreed. “Things are coming into place. It’s kind of like throwing a jigsaw puzzle into the air and hoping a few pieces of the puzzle fall together in the right place – and they are.”

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Related Links:

American Industrial Hygiene Association Mold Page

Toxic Black Mold Information Center

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