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Supplies go to storm-hit areas

In a warehouse in New Windsor, Md., boxes of school and health kits sit stacked and waiting for shipment to areas affected by Hurricane Katrina.

BY HEATHER MOYER | NEW WINDSOR, Md. | September 21, 2005

"We want to be part of the solution."

—Kathleen Campanella

In a warehouse in New Windsor, Md., boxes of school and health kits sit stacked and waiting for shipment to areas affected by Hurricane Katrina.

"Each one tells a story," said Kathleen Campanella, director of public relations for the Church of the Brethren Service Center. The boxes of donations sitting in the warehouse all bear address labels from churches, businesses and groups from across the country.

"Many tell stories of how their church's sewing circle prepared them together, or maybe that their Sunday School classes did it," she said. "It really serves the fellowship ministry, too."

The Brethren Service Center warehouse is where disaster relief supplies are gathered and prepared for distribution by the Emergency Response / Service Ministries (ERSM) division of the Church of the Brethren General Board.

For the Hurricane Katrina recovery so far, Campanella said the ERSM division has sent 21 shipments of supplies including the kits, blankets, flood buckets and more. Campanella said they work closely with many other denominational partners, such as Church World Service, to help gather and distribute the supplies. Via those partners, Campanella said ERSM knows the supplies are going where they are most needed.

"We only ship materials when they're requested," she explained. "We want to be part of the solution. It's not up to us to determine what they need there, the people in the field tell us."

Many of the relief shipments went straight to shelters around the south to help the hurricane survivors. Campanella said the outpouring of generosity since Hurricane Katrina has been amazing. Volunteers and donated supplies are constant, she said.

"We're booked full with volunteers for the next two months," said Campanella.

Loretta Wolf, director of service ministries for the Church of the Brethren General Board, said they put the volunteers wherever they are most needed in the warehouse. The warehouse is vast facility filled with pallets of flood buckets and stacks of Church World Service blankets. Forklifts buzz around moving shrink-wrapped supply pallets onto trucks for travel.

"We're getting an influx of the school and health kits now," explained Wolf. "It takes people a while to get over the initial shock and find something to do to help."

She added that she expects the steady stream of kits to continue for several months.

And that's not the only disaster relief that the ERSM division of Church of the Brethren is providing. The warehouse is at the Brethen Service Center, a 26-acre complex of buildings inhabited by many other church organizations, including Interchurch Medical Assistance (IMA). Campanella said IMA normally responds to international disasters, but Katrina was of such a nature that the organization could not ignore the needs. The agency sent down boxes of medicine to the shelters in their first ever domestic disaster response.

For Church of the Brethren's ERSM, the help springs beyond health kits and flood buckets as well. Church volunteers are currently in one southern Alabama town helping clean up debris. More are being prepared for deployment to other devastated sites.

At a denomination-sponsored auction this weekend, not only will all proceeds go toward disaster relief, but also the attendees aim to put together another 20,000 health and school kits.

The denomination's Disaster Child Care (DCC) program is also operating in several shelters and facilities in the south. DCC trains, certifies and mobilizes volunteers to disaster sites to provide crisis intervention for young children of families suffering from disasters.

Helen Stonesifer, director of DCC, said seven child care sites are open at shelters and Federal Emergency Management Agency Disaster Recovery Centers now, but she expects more to open as time goes by. "We're continually receiving requests for child care where evacuees are," she said.

While it isn't the largest response the program has had before, said Stonesifer, it is the most states the program has been active within before. She added that the outpouring of generosity toward the DCC program is amazing, too.

"We're getting a lot of phone calls from people who have heard of us, and they want to know how can they get trained and when can they volunteer," she explained. "That's prompting us to hold more trainings than usual this year. Now we even have a volunteer to coordinate those trainings."

Through the help of corporations with private jets and Angel Flight, the program's volunteers are being flown south for free. Stonesifer said that generosity is allowing the program to save money and put it toward other areas of need.

The Church of the Brethren will be involved in the Hurricane Katrina recovery for the long haul. Volunteers will long be needed to help clean up debris down south, to answer phones in the Brethren Service Center, to help kids through the DCC program, to organize donated kits at the warehouse and more.

Stonesifer summed up the volunteer needs with only a few words. "Flexibility is the key - be prepared for anything," she said with a smile.

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