By Mary Catherine Phillips, AWF Director of Communications
When you hear the words “natural disaster,” you immediately have a visual–property damage, lives lost, storm shelters….to name a few. In this man-made disaster, the eco-systems suffered and tourism came to a screeching halt. The pain caused by the oil spill, more often than not, was not visible.
A year’s worth of publicity and articles about the politics and struggle between BP and the coastal residents can be found far and wide with a quick online search. What seems harder to find are the positive outcomes.
Thanks to The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), the Alabama-West Florida Conference was awarded a $75,000 grant to assist those in need. UMCOR responds to natural disasters to help communities who are not able to recover on their own. In addition to the UMCOR grant, BP awarded Gulf Shores UMC a $60,000 grant as part of their “Project Rebound” initiative and $9,000 was also awarded to the church from the Erie Meyer Foundation. After a long summer, the work was able to begin on August 1, 2010.
Amelia Fletcher, AWF Conference Disaster Response Coordinator, facilitated the funds and helped identify those in need. The immediate target was the coastal churches from Panama City, FL to Bayou La Batre, AL. Word spread from the conference and district offices that this money was available and requests were processed. Because the government was directing the environmental cleanup, the focus was on the communities and its residents.
“The coastal area was still in recovery mode from the various hurricanes. This was completely off the radar and very unexpected,” said Fletcher. “The livelihood of so many of our church members was instantly impacted. This is an area that depends on tourism and the sudden lack of those dollars had a ripple effect.”
The funds were distributed as the requests were approved. A variety of innovative recovery programs were implemented. Morgan’s Chapel United Methodist Church in Bon Secour, AL was awarded a commercial refrigerator allowing them to run a bread ministry in their fishing community, which was deeply impacted by the spill. Rev. Dick Brooks, pastor at Morgan’s Chapel UMC said, “Our bread ministry would have ceased to exist had it not been for the UMCOR grant. So many communities and churches needed a boost to continue their ministries and this allowed us to continue serving a hurting community.”
The money given to the conference also went to projects during the Christmas season to purchase gifts for those who would not have Christmas otherwise. Workshops and seminars on how to cope during the disaster were coordinated and implemented, thanks to the grant. These meetings were open to pastors, staffs, community residents and social workers who talked to victims every day. It offered a support system that is necessary in a time of crisis. Family food events provided much-needed fellowship for families who simply needed a night out filled with laughter and love.
The money was not just for the adults. Art therapy, wildlife preservation lessons, beach cleanup and even children’s retreats assisted the younger victims who needed an outlet to express their emotions.
The income lost from this disaster will never be replaced but the hearts of these communities are healing. Fletcher said, “There is nothing better than to see disaster victims rise above their circumstances and join together. God requires us to carry one another’s burdens and this past year has been an exemplary witness of Christian love and care.”
On the anniversary of the spill, community leaders will hold a 24-hour prayer vigil at Cotton Bayou Beach in the hopes of launching a new year with faith and prayer.