While communities across the Coastal Bend assess damage and begin the long journey of recovery, Rio Texas United Methodists have been quick to respond to the need for money and volunteers.
Many churches in the conference responded to last week's special appeal from Robert Schnase, Bishop of the Rio Texas Annual Conference. Tens of thousands of dollars have also poured in via online donations through the Rio Texas Harvey Relief page. In addition, other annual conferences and churches are offering volunteers and financial assistance.
Numerous Early Response Teams and individuals signed up for immediate deployment and are already working at sites across the Coastal Bend.
Corpus Christi Disaster Response Area Site Coordinator Jim Callis reports that teams are working in Rockport, Refugio, Woodsboro, and Gregory. A team of six started on Labor Day. They already have as many as 44 team members set to work each day through the weekend of Sept. 8-10. Callis is working out of a temporary office at First United Methodist Church, Corpus Christi, which is also housing up to 50 volunteers per night.
Asbury United Methodist Church, Corpus Christi is also poised to house up to 100 volunteers when needed. First United Methodist Church, Victoria is also housing volunteers, including a team from Missouri. Teams are also scheduled to arrive from Indiana and the Texas Annual Conference.Cathedral Oaks Retreat Center in Weimer is also providing lodging for Rio Texas Early Responders.
Over 100 people attended training this past Saturday at St. Matthew's United Methodist Church in San Antonio. Many of these newly trained Early Responders are now headed toward impacted communities. Close to 200 people have registered for additional trainings coming up in Kingsville, San Antonio, and Austin.
Director of Outreach Vitality Abel Vega stresses that the most time-consuming work is preparing for the arrival of teams. "We need to work out the logistics of how to lodge and feed our teams. They need to be totally self-sufficient in the field. We don't want to use any of the limited resources intended for homeowners and community members."
There is also a process for determining worksites. Area coordinators work with local officials and homeowners to assess needs and receive approval to begin the work.
"The challenge now is to establish the infrastructure to meet the desire to get people out into the field," said Vega. "We are working on homes while, at the same time, building capacity for the number of volunteers that can serve."
While teams are trying to meet immediate needs as quickly as possible, leaders are also developing systems to efficiently and effectively deploy the financial and volunteer resources that are being offered.
"We also need to consider how this early response will transform into the necessary long-term response," Vega shared. "This recovery effort will take years."
Rev. Laura Merrill, Assistant to Bishop Robert Schnase, expressed her gratitude for the donations and offers of assistance that have been pouring in. "It is humbling to see the connection spring into action to offer so much help," said Merrill. "We are grateful for this generosity and intend to get these resources to people in need as quickly as possible."