Assistance sought to help MN towns

BY JIM KETCHAM | ST PETER, MN | July 27, 1998

ST PETER, MN (July 27, 1998) -- Severely damaged by tornadoes on March 29, the St. Peter, MN area suffered

more wind damage, July 20, including serious crop losses and damage to some

recently replaced roofs. But thanks to people of faith all over the

country, St. Peter is rebuilding, recovering and moving on.

Churches in St Peter were particularly hard hit in the March tornadoes,

according to the Rev. Bob Maharry of Union Presbyterian Church and

president of the local ministerial association. But while most of the

church repairs will be covered by insurance, the churches have been working

together to help rebuild the town and rebuild the lives of their neighbors.

The Interfaith of Southern Minnesota (ISM) was organized in the seven

counties declared disaster areas in the wake of March tornadoes. "We have

quite a few denominations participating already," said the ISM director,

Gregory Nelson. "The United Methodists, the Reformed Church in America, the

Presbyterians, the UCC and several Lutheran denominations as well as the

Roman Catholics, the Salvation Army and the Assemblies of God are all


"Our job is to assess on-going needs as people recover, and then raise

in-kind gifts or find reduced rate supplies," Nelson explained. "We also

recruit volunteers and raise funds, primarily through grant writing."

Material donations to help with the rebuilding of homes and farm

outbuildings are needed as well, Nelson said. "We've been able to get

shingles at half price, thanks to a local sales rep for Globe shingles. But

it's harder to get other construction materials donated. Lumber suppliers

in the surrounding area have either given already or given elsewhere. One

company I called had just sent a shipment to Bosnia."

But while progress has been made, Nelson said local residents become

"discouraged when storm after storm has come through." The latest storms,

which blew through several counties, left behind lots of tree removal and

trimming work, just as many residents thought they were getting caught up.

"We do have a pressing need for more volunteers for tree and yard clean up,

from New Ulm to St Peter. We also need skilled volunteers for

reconstruction," Nelson said.

Melanie Johnson, State Coordinator for Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR),

echoed the need for roofers, sheetrock installers and carpenters. . LDR,

working in conjunction with the interfaith, has set up outreach offices in

the towns hit hardest by the tornadoes to help coordinate volunteers,

provide direct assistance for rebuilding materials through purchase

vouchers, and financial assistance for families in need.

"The farmers were hit hard, especially their outbuildings," Johnson said.

"We need volunteers to help build pole barns and that sort of thing.

"For a while people were hesitant to ask for help," she added. "Now they've

gotten whatever they're going to get from insurance and FEMA payments, and

they're realizing they have shortfalls. We're still finding places that

need clean up, debris removal, tree trimming, and yard work. We also need

volunteers who have skills in listening and can help us do visiting and

outreach to assess needs. People need to talk about their needs and know

it's OK."

In nearby Comfrey, the tornadoes levelled the business district. Economy

Homes of Litchfield, MN, loaned the faith community a new doublewide

trailer that was placed near the site of the former coffee shop in town.

The trailer "became THE place to go for coffee" when folks needed a break

from cleaning up, Johnson reported.

This summer, LDR is providing day camps in each of communities to let

younger children get away, have fun with other kids and talk about their

experiences and fears. The program is called "Camp Noah" because it takes

Noah's story and explains it as a disaster.

Children are encouraged to put their own experiences into that context, and

asked to compare what happened to Noah to what is happening to them. Four

weeks of day camp will be offered in St Peter, then a week each in Comfrey,

LeCenter and Hanska. Reunion events will be planned for the children later

this fall. A new recovery program for junior and senior high youth, is also

being tested by LDR.

Posted July 27, 1998

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