A ‘Flood’ of Response: Westbury UMC Serves as “Command Central”

Date Posted: 6/11/2015

Following May’s historic flooding in Houston, Westbury UMC is serving as headquarters for a multi-agency resource center showcasing collaborative cleanup response at its best.
Many people across Texas – particularly in Houston -- can now personally relate to the Bible story of Noah’s Ark. In fact, the National Weather Service calculated the devastating statewide rainfall totals in May alone and estimate it was enough moisture to cover the entire state of Texas in eight inches of water. During the week of Annual Conference, Houston’s lingering thunderstorms dumped in excess of 10 inches of rain, flooded major freeways, submerged over 2,500 vehicles and damaged over 4,000 homes and properties. In addition to trapping attendees at the conference hotel and preventing others from attending various sessions, the torrential storms even forced hundreds of Houston Rockets fans to spend the night at the Toyota Center. 

A Multi-Faceted Relief Operation
Social Media played an important role in early response to the disaster. Facebook Groups such as “Moms & Ladies of Southwest Houston” began organizing collection and delivery of packing materials and food within days of the disaster. Churches and neighborhood groups began working together quickly to gather and deploy volunteers to remove carpet, haul furniture, and meet the many needs of flooded residents. “There were moms canvassing the neighborhood, pulling their toddlers in wagons full of cleaning supplies and sack lunches for those in need,” shares Rev. Taylor Fuerst of Westbury UMC. Early on, Westbury UMC partnered with Westbury Baptist Church and other grassroots groups to serve as a hub for volunteers and donations for the Meyerland Area. “As a Pastor, I could not have been more amazed by the response. On Friday afternoon, I emailed our congregation to request volunteers and donations, and on Saturday morning, there were over 60 people in the gym, ready to go!”
Westbury’s Rev. Hannah Terry has served as a key connector between the church, community, and TACCOR consultants. “An amazing grassroots community is organizing in the city of Houston against the backdrop of Westbury UMC where a significant amount of the worst flooding took place,”  Hannah says. “It’s so much fun to watch dots connect among friends, neighbors, leaders and city officials. We are achieving solidarity in blessing and caring for Houston.”
Westbury UMC Steps Up as Command Central
Volunteer mobilization became even more successful thanks to the United Methodist Connection. The Body of Christ has been tangible in these last few weeks as volunteers from across districts and congregations gather daily to help with flood cleanup,” says Diane McGehee, Director of the TAC Center for Missional Excellence. TACCOR Consultant Carol Greenslate, who has been at the forefront of the disaster response effort, adds, “As a native Houstonian who grew up in this area I have not witnessed this type of flood damage before.”
Adds Carol, “We have deployed Methodist volunteers that came in from as all over our Central North, Southeast, South West and Central South Districts including pastors and district superintendents. Our goal is to be the Christian presence in the midst of a disaster to this community.”  In early June, TACCOR’s Volunteer Flood Relief Center at Westbury UMC was asked to serve as the MARC or Multi-Agency Relief Center, allowing residents to have access to a variety of agencies without leaving the neighborhood. I have witnessed the body of Christ working together and serving others in amazing ways in a short time, and I am so proud to be a Methodist.”
Blessings Amidst the Mud and Mess
Faithbridge UMC, Spring volunteer Julie Ewers was one of five volunteers who recently drove down to help with cleanup and special projects. “We delivered medical items to one home, and to another, we brought clothes that had been washed for the homeowner who was very thankful. Hearing how the water came in so quickly, rising to the point they lost everything including cars, was heartbreaking.  Especially to hear they had just renovated the house bringing it all the way down to the studs and now it was all ruined,” she shares.  “We prayed with them before we left and were glad to know they were able to find an apartment while they work on saving what they can from their home.” 
The ‘Faithbridge five some’ then went to help a 92-year old man who had lived in his house for 40+ years. Notes Julie, “He told us that he woke up in the middle of the night and when he got out of bed, the water was already up to his shins.  One of his daughters, recovering from cancer surgery, was able to get her mom, who has Alzheimer’s, to dry ground, leaving a very overwhelmed second daughter who needed us to help pack items that could be saved.” When the group finished packing, they posed for a picture (see photo) and prayed with the homeowners. “With tears in his eyes, he also prayed for us, which was such a blessing. We are all thankful for this wonderful opportunity to serve.”
Bishop Requests Special Offering 
Bishop Janice Riggle Huie is proud of the response across the conference and in Houston. “Westbury UMC is the location of a Multi-Agency Resource Center for the City of Houston’s response.  Our disaster response teams and volunteers are working side by side with the City of Houston, FEMA, the Red Cross and others to insure that funds donated are utilized where most needed.  It is our privilege to be called upon to provide this service,” she says. On Thursday, she sent a special appeal for funding to cover the dramatic losses on behalf of the uninsured and underinsured.
“Recovery is going to be a long-term process as insurance and FEMA claims are processed and resources allocated,” adds Bishop Huie. “We want to be ready to fill in the gap where families and individuals are not made whole by those resources. Your generous gifts will allow us to continue to meet the needs of those most affected throughout the conference by these recent disasters.  Thank you in advance for always stepping up to the plate and meeting the need.”
Donations and Volunteers Welcome
Volunteers will be needed for several weeks, as those displaced from their homes continue to clean up and others begin to move back in. To keep up to date on the status of volunteer needs, visit http://www.taccor.org/activeresponse.htm or  http://www.westburyumc.org  

Sign up to volunteer at http://taccor.ivolunteer.com/houstonfloodmay2015 
Volunteers may also call the volunteer center phone number: 832-857-2135

You can also give to help those impacted by Houston flooding at http://www.txcumc.org/houstonflooddonation 
If you prefer to send a check, please make it out to The Texas Annual Conference with the memo line marked “Houston Flood Recovery” and send it to:
Fiscal Office / Flood Recovery
Texas Annual Conference
5215 Main Street, Houston, TX 77002