By Rev. Karen Evenson
We are often divided by politics, religion, and other differences, but storms like the hurricanes that have hit recently don't discriminate along those lines. Storms simply hit, and everyone and everything in its path is affected. When disasters come, opportunities rise in front of us—opportunities to be in community, to reach out, to practice generosity, and to be the church.
Our story of reaching out began with a conversation between Pastor Karen Evenson (Faith UMC, Farmington) and Trinity Lutheran Church pastor, Rev. Andy Herzberg (one block away from Faith Church) sharing how we were working in our individual churches and denominations to respond to the disaster brought by the hurricanes and fires and other storms hitting around the country. It grew into a conversation about inviting other clergy and churches, community, business, and civic leaders to join together to figure out how we might work together to respond in a way that might have a positive impact for an entire community. A local Thrivent Financial team agreed to make a financial commitment and provide administrative support to the cause. And so it began.
A leadership team formed. We put ideas on the table (literally, including an UMCOR cleaning bucket filled with supplies). We decided that in order to have the biggest impact for disaster victims, we would need to come up with a way for every community member to contribute and to focus our collective time, money, and energy so that we could sustain a long-term recovery effort. Many of us around the table were interested in working with and not simply doing for people; we wanted to help in practical ways and to build a long-term relationship with another community, if we could. The team tasked Farmington Mayor Todd Larson with the job of connecting with mayors of communities in southern Texas where we had seen Harvey hit the hardest.
Within two weeks we knew that our community would be “adopting” Port Aransas, Texas, a town of 4,000 people 160 miles southwest of Houston and on an island on the Texas coast. Several of the mayors we spoke to in Texas indicated that Port Aransas was hard hit, and because of their location and size would have fewer resources than others.
What started as a conversation became the “Drop in the Bucket” Farmington Community Disaster Response effort!
We kept in touch with those we were getting to know in Port Aransas and found that they still needed lots of cleaning buckets. Once some of the residents found temporary housing, they needed building supplies, coffee makers, crockpots, toasters, microwaves, silverware—things that could help them start getting their lives back together.
The Farmington Ace hardware store purchased items at cost so that an affordable option would be available for community members. A Farmington lumber company donated wood, windows, and doors. Members of Faith UMC and other churches offered their buildings as “drop-off sites” for small appliances and other donations. Farmington schools collected change totaling $3000 to buy cleaning buckets. The message continued to spread across the Farmington community, and through social media all the way to Port Aransas! Relationships began to form between people, churches, and entire communities.
As supplies began to come in, a local truck driver heard about the effort and asked his trucking company if they could get involved. He volunteered to give his time, and Wayne Transport donated a brand new semi-trailer, which made its first long-haul drive to Port Aransas, Texas with over 500 cleaning buckets, over 100 small appliances, windows, doors, lumber, and hand tools! Before the truck took off, we had a huge “send-off” celebration and invited everyone in Farmington to come out to enjoy food, meet one another, sign a banner of greeting that would be given to the Port Aransas Donation Center, and join together to offer a blessing over the truck and its driver, Rich.
As we got closer to the send-off celebration, members of the team were asked whether we could travel to “Port A,” as we’d come to know it, to meet the truck when it arrived and meet the people to whom we were sending supplies. Three of us were able to make the time and find the resources to get there. We all arrived in Port Aransas to witness first-hand the devastation and damage to more than 85% of that community’s buildings and homes. We met residents of Port A and got to know the two women who put together the Port A Donation Center. We met more than 300 people—no different than ourselves—who came the next day to pick up cleaning supplies and other donations. There were tears, words of gratitude and relief, and lots and lots of hugs. There was a spirit of exhaustion and of hope in the air.
The story and work does not end there. The Farmington Community Disaster Response team continues to meet bi-weekly. Our ecumenical Thanksgiving Eve offering was directed to the Port Aransas efforts, and we will be sending more teams in the months ahead. A small town coming together can be more than a drop in the bucket! And the church can lead the way!
Rev. Karen Evenson is the pastor of Faith UMC in Farmington.Read related articles in the Pioneer Press / Farmington Independent
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church