As thousands of displaced survivors of Hurricane Katrina flowed into Houston, Texas, New Life Christian Reformed Church swung into action, setting up a collection center for donations.
“We opened up at 8 in the morning, and by 5 we had to turn clothing donations away,” said Donna Molegraaf, office manager for New Life, which is located in a northern suburb of Houston. “We had mountains of clothing and baby and hygiene items filling our fellowship hall and parts of our sanctuary.” Sunday worship was held amid 8- to 10-foot-high piles of donated goods.
Forty-eight hours later, 1,000 boxes of food, clothing, and hygiene products were sorted, packed, and delivered to nearby shelters housing hundreds of evacuees, with more items still waiting to be sorted. The rest of the clothing remains at the church, where evacuees can come to pick out what they need.
“Our members worked many hours over the Labor Day weekend,” said Molegraaf. “We had at least 50 neighbors who just walked in and asked what they could do.” One woman left a $500 donation to use as the church saw fit.
“This is a very long-term project,” said Molegraaf. “The needs and plans change by the hour, and we don’t know how long we will be doing what we are doing and what other things we may be called to do later.”
Across the city members of Hope Christian Reformed Church in southeast Houston helped serve 250 people per day at shelters in their area. They were also serving as prayer counselors to the evacuees.
Chaplains on the Front Line
On the other side of the world, in Iraq, 1st Lt. Tyler Wagenmaker, a CRC pastor and army chaplain, also dealt with the effects of Katrina.
“Practically my entire brigade comes from Louisiana, with at least one battalion from New Orleans itself,” he wrote. “There are a number of guys in my battalion who lost everything, some who don’t even know where a family member is yet. It’s been a time of great anxiety for many.” Wagenmaker wrote that the unit has already started redeployment back to Fort Polk, La.
On the ground in Fort Polk, the Louisiana National Guard’s 256th Combat Brigade returned home from Baghdad subdued, with many trying to learn the fate of their families and property. Col. Jack Van Dyken, a CRC pastor, is command chaplain at Fort Polk. He said that U.S. Army posts across the country are collecting clothing and money for the soldiers and families affected by the hurricane. According to CRC Chaplaincy Ministries Director Herm Keizer, five more chaplains are being sent to Fort Polk to help Van Dyken and his staff with counseling.
Christian Reformed World Relief Committee
CRWRC, the Christian Reformed Church’s relief and development agency, sent a rapid-response team to the hurricane-affected area just days after the storm struck. The eight-member team will locate and set up staging sites where volunteer teams can be housed and fed as the clean up and rehabilitation stage begins.
CRWRC increased its initial fund-raising goal for cleanup and long-term reconstruction from $2 million to $5 million as donations poured in faster than staff could tally them. As of Sept. 7, CRWRC-U.S. had already received $500,000, CRWRC-Canada had received $15,000, and many churches on both sides of the border had scheduled special offerings later in the month.
The denomination’s U.S. headquarters in Grand Rapids, Mich., also became a collection site for new clothing, hygiene products, and children’s toys in anticipation of 500 evacuees being transported first to Fort Custer in Battle Creek, Mich., and then on to a Red Cross shelter in Grand Rapids. CRWRC is part of a coalition of agencies working with the Michigan Red Cross.
The main atrium and hallways of the building turned into mass storage areas as volunteers sorted and boxed the donations before moving them to West Leonard CRC in northern Grand Rapids, where the evacuees would have easy access to the supplies.
Financial support for CRWRC’s response to Hurricane Katrina can be given by phone at 1-800-55-CRWRC, or online at www.crwrc.org. Checks should be made out to CRWRC and marked “Hurricanes 2005.” They can be mailed to 2850 Kalamazoo Ave. SE, Grand Rapids, MI, 49560; or to P.O. Box 5070, STN LCD 1, Burlington, ON L7R 3Y8.