Texas Churches Offer Shelter, Hope in Imelda Aftermath
Tropical storm Imelda left immense flooding in its wake. Many communities, still recovering from Hurricane Harvey, reported damage beyond belief. Area churches have jumped into action to help wherever they can. This story is the first in a series shining a light on the hope these congregations have brought to their neighbors.
Every year, Faith UMC in Fannett hosts a pumpkin patch -- a fall favorite local school fieldtrips. Each child who attends goes home with a pumpkin.
After the storm this year, however, the field trip budgets were eliminated, as school administrators turned their focus to repairing flooded campuses.
Tropical storm Imelda's rainfall over eastern Texas totaled more then 40 inches in some part and resulted in major flash flooding. The water poured down heavily in a short amount of time September 18 to September 19. For example, Greens Bayou at US 59 measured 6.24 inches of rain in one hour. Conroe had 5.16 inches of rain in one hour that same morning.
In Jefferson County, some areas south of the city of Beaumont measured more than 20 inches of rain in only 12 hours. The rain at Bush Intercontinental Airport (9.21 inches on Sept. 19) set the city's record for its wettest calendar day in September. Floodwaters shut down terminals and stranded Metro buses.
The highest rainfall total from Imelda was 43.39 inches southwest of Beaumont at North Fork Taylors Bayou. In Chambers Country, communities of Winnie, Hankamer, and Stowell received a devastating amount of floodwater and are continuing efforts to rebuild from the flood. In Winnie, at least 800 homes took on water.
In the aftermath of the storm, Faith UMC wanted to ensure that children could still come and leave with their pumpkins. Church members decided to cover the cost.
“Children need some normalcy,” Pastor Rev. Christie Hale said. “If that’s a pumpkin, even in a mucked out house, then that’s what they need.”
She fully expected the church to flood. High water hit both sides of the campus, but it was completely untouched.
“We didn’t flood, so we’re using what we have now to help others,” Hale said. “We’ll be that rainbow in the community.”
When the pastor learned that schools were closed and area day cares were shut down as well, she devised a plan to bring children to the church instead. Not long after the storm subsided, Faith’s Recovery VBS opened.
Children were invited from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Crafts, music, games, movies and activities were lined up. Lunch and snacks were also provided daily.
At first, about 15 kids showed up, but registration closed at 62 children, ranging from nursery to middle school.
After about two weeks of the offerings, school will reopen for a half day, and Hale has actively helped churches organize ways to take in students and provide needed snacks.
“We’re all pooling the resources we have at our disposal,” Hale said. “It’s loaves and fishes.”
She explained that most of the families who lived through the flood in Imelda had just gotten back into their homes post-Harvey. “This wasn’t their first flood,” she said. “They jumped in absolutely as quickly as they could.”
Families often had to return to work immediately after the flood – and are trying to balance work with mucking out their homes. With schools and day cares closed, she knew childcare would be a top priority.
“A church should step up when there’s such a dramatic need,” she said.
In addition, the church is aware of the trauma children are going through dealing with another flood and with stressed out parents at home.
“To find a place where they can just be a kid and be safe can be really rewarding for them,” Hale said.
Older children at VBS even helped set-up the pumpkin patch, she added.
She wants the congregation and area residents to know they can lean on the church for support. “It doesn’t matter what it is, you’re not alone,” she said. “’Flood’ has become a dirty word, but it’s also an opportunity. We’re all about what’s God asking us to do now?”
Imelda flooded the sanctuary, parsonage, family life center, and grounds around FUMC Winnie.
FUMC Winnie was not spared from rising waters during Imelda. After the sanctuary flooded, the first order of business was ripping out the carpet and stacking pews in the back of the room.
The congregation was able to continue worshiping in the Family Life Center. Still, Internet is down at the church, and most of the members are still cleaning out their own homes that were flooded.
Pastor Robert Shields was in the parsonage when the storm began and had to flee to higher ground with his family. About four inches of rain ran through the parsonage and created enough damage to force the pastor to move for the next few months. Volunteers already helped clean out the parsonage.
Shields has watched his church members mucking out the homes of their neighbors, even as they deal with their own damage from the flood. “This had a much more severe impact here than Harvey,” he said. “The water came up very quickly.”
The church spent the week after the flood feeding families – and became a distribution center for supplies. Others donated water and flood buckets to the church, and area residents picked them up.
“I was deeply moved,” Shields said. “There were a lot of angels in human form who appeared to offer help. This congregation has a good spirit, and they really come together in a time of distress. I’ve been very impressed by their acts of mercy and their help to other people.”
Still, he explained that Winnie is in the early phases of the flood’s aftermath. Help can come in an initial surge, but the community needs long-term staying power to really make a difference, he explained.
He suggests sending VISA gift cards to the church so it can distribute them to families in need of groceries, gas and building supplies. Since the Internet has been down, he recommends sending donations to the mailing address: P.O. BOX 1570/Winnie, TX 77665.
“This community, because it’s such a small town, could really benefit from sustained support over time,” Shields said.
He will continue to be assessing the needs of the community and finding creative solutions where possible. “We’re kind of modifying our plans week by week depending on what the need is,” he said.
In the mean time, the sheetrock and insulation are being torn away at the parsonage. The church is also looking at options to repair its sanctuary.
Shields worries about the effect of the flood on his congregation’s mental and emotional well-being.
“Stress is an invisible force in the community,” he said. “It’s important to keep communities like this in prayer and be available for social support. I encourage people to be attentive to self care and be gentle and patient with one another.”
He added that the flood and the storm are opportunities to test faith. “Suffering can be appropriated by God in a transformative and redemptive way, depending on how you respond to it,” he said. “That’s my intention – and that of the people in the church – to respond in ways that show the love of Christ.”
For more information visit www.faithfannett.com/vbs.