In the midst of devastation came inspiration.
"It was ecumenical," said the Rev. John K. Manno of the response at Our Lady of Lourdes Church to last year's massive flooding. "It was a tragedy, a devastation. It wasn't the magnitude of ground zero (but we) have the same spirit of people coming together for other people ... It will always be an inspiration in my life."
Even before the flooding hit, Our Lady of Lourdes was designated as an emergency disaster center.
SUN-GAZETTE FILE PHOTO
Clothing, food and numerous other items poured into Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Montoursville to be distributed to those who needed help.
But initially nobody showed up on Sept. 7, the first day of the storm. About 9:45 p.m., Manno thought about going home because no one had shown up for help. But then five minutes later, a van pulled up with a young woman and four children.
They had just lost everything.
Shortly after, Manno received a phone call from Montoursville Mayor John Dorin that the borough high rises were being evacuated.
Long-Term Disaster Recovery Committee continues to assist
By ALYSSA MURPHY
Some organizations are there with immediate assistance in the wake of disaster.
Others are there for the long haul.
Count among the latter the Long-Term Disaster Recovery Committee of United Churches of Lycoming County.
"Basically we have two goals," Phillip Landers, case manager, said. "One is to develop and coordinate a Christian response to continuing unmet needs from last year's flooding. The second goal is to provide information, strategies and resources for a church's response to disaster events."
The committee has representatives from the church community, government and social service agencies.
Organizations include STEP Inc., Salvation Army, American Red Cross, American Rescue Workers and Habitat for Humanity, Landers said.
"Each of those three groups
(religious, government agency and social agency) bring different resources to the table," he said. "Our basic goal is to connect people with unmet needs because of the flood with resources."
The committee formed in late fall, encouraged by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has found that similar committees can do things that government agencies cannot because of regulations and rules.
"A good example might be if someone is severely affected by the flood," Landers said. "But they also have other issues like a leaky roof. The churches can, on their own, help possibly repair the roof ... Government agencies are limited to flood damages."
A year after the flood, Landers said the committee continues to find more people with unmet needs.
He said he would guess the committee has helped about 25 to 30 families so far.
"There have been some cases where we have not been able to meet needs because we didn't have resources or they didn't really qualify for the help we were trying to provide," Landers said. "Some damage not related to the flood, for example. That's not meant to say they were trying to con us. They just didn't meet our criteria. We try to prioritize. If somebody is out of home, our goal is to get them back home."
Connecting resources with people's unmet needs can be as simple as working with the American Rescue Workers to get people mattresses.
"Somebody needs some dirt because it washed away," Landers gave as an example of one of the requests. "Who can we persuade either through donation or through a reduced cost that maybe we can get the dirt?"
Saving money also comes from using volunteers.
"Volunteers come from all different places," he said.
Church affiliates with Presbyterians and Methodists outside of the area from Altoona, Pittsburgh and Scranton, as well as Williamsport groups, have helped do work on people's homes.
"I called the maintenance man," Manno said. "We said a prayer. I made phone calls. He made phone calls."
Within half an hour, volunteers showed up and had the church at 100 Walnut St. in Montoursville ready by the time the American Red Cross brought the first people to spend the night.
One of the volunteers was Judy DeGregorio.
"It all mushroomed from that," DeGregorio recalled.
That first night, between 35 to 40 people stayed. The next night, relatives picked up some of the people, but between 20 to 25 others stayed overnight.
As with other disaster centers in other parts of the county, the work did not finish when the shelter stopped.
For three weeks, the church became a center for people to get what they needed.
The community donated about $55,000, which was used to give people gift cards for food, gasoline and to stores such as Lowe's and Beiter's. In the hall, tables were piled with clothes and cleaning supplies. Flood victims were advised to talk to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
DeGregorio said they were encouraged to take the cleaning supplies and jeans, shoes and other clothing they could work in and then throw away, without having to worry about washing later. The volunteers also made sure those in need had food. Sometimes they prepared lunch for them. Then, the shelter volunteers listened.
"So many just wanted someone to listen to their stories," DeGregorio said. "That's what people did. We listened. We hugged. We cried. It was heartbreaking what some of them went through."
Every day for those three weeks, the church hall was open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. to help anyone who came to them. Also coming with those who needed help were those who wanted to donate supplies.
"It just came and came and came for three weeks," DeGregorio said. "Anyone who came and asked, they were given what we had."
If someone needed something in particular, one of the volunteers would post it on Facebook and they quickly would receive a response
"We kept posting it on Facebook," DeGregorio said. " 'We need this. We need that.' The church hall was filled to the brim ... Everyone came together to help."
After three weeks, the church held a rummage sale to raise more money for people who needed help. That which was not bought was kept in case anyone else needed clothing. Eventually, when people stopped asking, they donated some clothing to fire victims.
Following the rummage sale, five or six volunteers in the group stayed in touch, working out of their homes to continue helping the people who were in need. In the winter and spring, they would get together once or twice a week to distribute the limited amount of funding they had left.
"It was a tremendous experience," DeGregorio said. "Six months of your life disappeared."
Now there are about five or six families who have money reserved for when they are able to use it. The money is not for rebuilding, but for items such as a refrigerator.
DeGregorio said the church is pretty much done distributing money.
"Unless we get a huge donation," she said. "I'm sure we could find someone to use it."
Yet she said she has her fingers crossed that they never have an event like it again.
It was the first time the volunteers ever had experienced something of that magnitude. They worked together, with no one in charge.
People came from all over to help, she said. One woman drove from Loganton every day, just to help. Some volunteers were not even connected to the church but just wanted to go wherever their help was needed.
Volunteers would help wherever needed, whether organizing donations, making meals or taking information of the people who needed help. There were 4,400 meals made at the church, Manno said.
"I don't know how we did it," DeGregorio said. "We had no training. None of us had ever done anything like this before."
As the weeks went on, fewer volunteers offered their help.
For Christmas, the stacks of clothes that once adorned the church hall were replaced with stacks of toys, to help the families who did not have the time or money to shop. In November, the church hosted a toy day and put the word out that toys were needed. A section of the hall was devoted to donated decorations.
"People were allowed to take," DeGregorio said. "It was just unbelievable. I thought maybe a couple of games, a doll. The hall was literally filled with toys."