Columbia’s faith community has been on the front lines this week, working to help families whose lives were devastated by last weekend’s historic floods.
Congregants from Bethel AME. Church in Shandon are partnering with disaster relief workers at St. Andrews Middle School, South Kilbourne Elementary and Lower Richland High School to volunteer in whatever ways residents from those areas need help.
“We e-blast our congregation when there is a need, and we get a group of volunteers and do whatever is needed to help those areas,” said associate pastor Betty Wannamaker.
The needs are many and will continue to increase in number and in scope, Wannamaker said.
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“One of the other ministers and I were talking about the mental effect of the flood and also the spiritual effect that we know we will have to deal with with our members and with people in the community down the road,” Wannamaker said. “We just know there will be a need to address those effects, because every disaster affects people emotionally, financially and spiritually, too.”
Bethel’s efforts are among many across the Midlands and beyond that include everything from donations and feeding centers to fundraisers and more.
Trenholm Road United Methodist Church is serving as a disaster relief site in the Forest Acres area, one of the communities hardest-hit by Sunday’s storms.
“We have had folks coming to help from all over,” senior pastor Mike Smith said. “We have had folks from churches in Prosperity, Orangeburg, Greenwood. Myers Park United Methodist in Charlotte has been sending supplies every day.”
The church has received donations ranging from 1,000 cupcakes to 1,000 cases of water to 1,000 chickens, Smith said.
“We had volunteers put up a mobile kitchen and cook 1,000 chickens and countless hotdogs and hamburgers, and we were able to take all that food to A.C. Flora and Lower Richland to the shelters to feed first responders there,” Smith said.
Like many churches, Trenholm Road has relied on social media, including Facebook and Twitter, to get word out on immediate needs.
“It’s an opportunity to serve and to be a healing presence in this time of pain and a light in the darkness,” Smith said. “The church membership has been amazingly responsive on every level.”
Janis Albergotti, director of missions and outreach for Mount Horeb United Methodist Church in Lexington, said reaching out to the community is what the faithful are called to do.
“We’re called to love our neighbor, and our neighbor isn’t just the person who lives next door, but it’s all people,” Albergotti said. “So many people are wanting to do things to help, and it’s not just Christians — there’s a response of the human spirit in people wanting to help. But for those of us who are Christians, it comes from a deeper place than that because we aren’t just doing it as a love for people but out of a love for our Savior. Our response has to be to go. Our response has to be to give. It’s what we’re commanded to do, but it’s also what we’re compelled to do.”
Albergotti and others at Mt. Horeb are coordinating efforts with Hope Force International, a Brentwood, Tenn.-based non-profit Christian organization dedicated to disaster response. The church is hosting a Hope Force team that will train church members to know where to go over the next few weeks, and even months, to reach those who are marginalized and might not be receiving assistance through other avenues.
The church also has made a $5,000 donation to Harvest Hope Food Bank to provide emergency food for those living in temporary shelters throughout the Midlands and has provided materials and volunteers to those shelters.
Smith, of Trenholm Road, has seen much giving in the face of tragedy. But perhaps one of the most impactful donations he received was one for $3.
“A woman brought her mom to get some supplies and, after they got their supplies, she had $3, and she wanted me to take the $3 and put it in the relief fund so that we could help other people,” Smith said. “I tried to get her not to do it, because it was obviously all she had.
“But I learned a long time ago if people want to give, don’t tell them no, because that helps people feel like they are a part of something,” he said. “It was just so moving that here was this woman, who was actually receiving supplies, who gave her last $3 to help other people.”
More relief efforts
Many more churches have set up relief efforts. Among them:
Shandon Baptist Church: The church in hard-hit Forest Acres is a collection and distribution point. Nearly 5,000 cases of water, countless paper products and toiletries have been distributed so far, according to pastor Dick Lincoln. The church also has used 10 of its buses to deliver food, water and supplies to residents at apartment complexes and housing projects.
Samaritan’s Purse also has made the church its headquarters and has based volunteers there for the next month to help with cleanup efforts in the area.
“They have several big trailers on our church property,” Lincoln said. “They are sleeping there. They get up every morning and eat breakfast there, get together and do a debrief and then get out to these places where they need to go to do the work.” 5250 Forest Drive, Columbia
First Baptist Church of Columbia: The downtown church will be holding a benefit concert at 6 p.m. Sunday in its 3,400-seat sanctuary; doors open an hour before. The concert will feature modern hymn and song writers Keith and Kristyn Getty. Admission is free, but a love offering will be taken, with all proceeds going to those affected by the floods. The church also is working with the Columbia Metro Baptist Association and the United Way of the Midlands to help get individuals and families out of shelters and provide permanent or intermediate housing.
In addition, First Baptist is housing a team of S.C. Baptist disaster relief volunteers who are operating a feeding unit at a city maintenance area and is coordinating with sister church Woodfield Park Baptist to distribute bottled water to those in need. Church members also have delivered snacks and drinks to firemen, security and EMS staff working outside of Baptist Hospital. 1306 Hampton St., Columbia
St. Joseph Catholic Church: St. Joseph is collecting goods Saturday. Requested items include baby diapers and wipes, toiletries, cleaning supplies and non-perishable food. Parishioners also can donate by going to the parish website, stjosephcolumbia.org and clicking on “Joyful Giving” then “Storm Relief.” 3512 Devine St.
Kathwood Baptist Church: Kathwood is collecting items specifically for preschoolers and children: diapers, wipes, toys, clothes, blankets. The church also is accepting donations that will be distributed to families with needs in the area. 4900 Trenholm Road, Columbia
Riverland Hills Baptist Church: The Irmo church is coordinating efforts with and housing S.C. Baptist Convention relief team members. That team is helping cook and distribute food from roughly 15 18-wheelers throughout the Columbia area to anyone who needs it, according to senior pastor Ed Carney. The church is also partnering with the Red Cross to make sure those who do not have insurance and who do not qualify for FEMA will get donations. 201 Lake Murray Blvd., Irmo