Tornado recovery plans in motion

A month later, local faith-based organizations plan to provide long-term support for tornado survivors in Ark., TN


"The churches have done a lot, but there's a lot more to do. This thing is far from over."

—Rev. Joe Kitchens, Atkins UMC

Nearly one month after tornadoes ripped through Arkansas and Tennessee, many faith-based organizations are gearing up to provide long-term assistance to those affected by the storms.

"The churches have done a lot, but there's a lot more to do. This thing is far from over," said the Rev. Joe Kitchens, pastor of the Atkins, Ark. United Methodist Church. “Right after the tornado hit, churches set up feeding programs, food pantries and shelters. We all had groups out in the field checking on people, helping with clean-up and tree removal. That’s all well and good, but now that much of that work is over, and now that the Red Cross and Salvation Army have pulled out, the local churches will be the ones helping to put people’s lives back together. And that’s as it should be.”

Jamie Dake, public information officer and volunteer coordinator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), said the response by faith-based groups in the affected communities has been unlike anything he’s ever seen.

“The mantra ‘all disasters are local’ has really been driven home here,” he said. “It seems that nearly every community has taken responsibility for its own. Maybe it’s because many of the areas hit are small towns, but groups have connected and come together to begin the rebuilding process without our help or direction. They have completely taken ownership of these families and are already working together to see that their needs are met.”

Dan Martinez, public information officer for Arkansas’ FEMA branch, said the needs have been great.

By the end of February, more than 1,600 uninsured and underinsured Arkansas residents in the nine counties declared eligible for federal disaster assistance had requested help. He said, to date, $1.6 million had been approved through FEMA's Individuals and Households Program for housing assistance, including rental assistance and repairs to homes for eligible applicants. Of that, $600,000 will be provided to help offset disaster-related costs such as medical and dental expenses, lost personal possessions, funeral costs and transportation.

Gracia Szczech, Tennessee’s FEMA spokesperson said nearly 4,000 uninsured and underinsured Tennesseans in 17 counties had requested assistance. More than $2 million has been approved for those eligible for the Individuals and Households Program. Nearly $573,000 will be used to help cover other essential disaster-related needs in that state.

In addition, according to Roger Busch, communications officer with the U.S. Business Administration (SBA) Disaster Loan Program, the SBA has approved $4.7 million in loans for uninsured or underinsured Arkansas homeowners, renters and business owners. In Tennessee, the SBA has approved $2.2 million in loans.

Kitchens said those unable to qualify for government aid are exactly the ones the faith-based groups in his area are looking to help.

“Churches are adopting those families that fall between the cracks. And when I say ‘adopting,’ I don’t just mean they’re handing them a wad of cash to help them out. They are befriending them, counseling with them, babysitting being there to help with all their needs,” he said.

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