Skip Navigation

Houston churches go flat out with flood relief

 

The Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell greets volunteer Mary Jackson at the doorway of the food and clothing distribution center at Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston. Photo by Kathleen Barry, UMNS

The Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell greets volunteer Mary Jackson at the doorway of the food and clothing distribution center at Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston.

 

Story by Sam Hodges, photos by Kathleen Barry
Sept. 13, 2017 | HOUSTON (UMNS)
 

These days, as the Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell drives the streets of his native Houston, he sees mounds of flooded debris outside homes in low-income, middle-class and wealthy neighborhoods.

“I’m here to tell you, all three trash loads look just the same,” said Caldwell, pastor of Houston’s Windsor Village United Methodist Church. “Harvey has been an equal-opportunity destroyer.”

More than two weeks after the record rains that accompanied Hurricane Harvey in its tropical storm phase, United Methodists in Houston are still busy with basic relief work, including handing out cleaning supplies, mucking out houses and providing day care for children whose public schools aren’t yet ready to reopen.

Debris piles up in front of a home affected by flooding from Hurricane Harvey in Houston.  Photo by Kathleen Barry, UMNS

Debris piles up in front of a home affected by flooding from Hurricane Harvey in Houston.

 

Texas Conference Bishop Scott Jones did a live Facebook video on Sept. 12, saying how proud he was of the United Methodist response. He also encouraged relief workers to pace themselves.

“Find time for emotional support,” he said. “Find time for Sabbath. Find time to connect with family and friends. This is not going to be something that goes quickly.”

But there’s an urgency felt by the Chapelwood United Methodist Church teams helping to clean out flooded homes in Houston, their city. The volunteers are wearing masks already, and they want to pull out wet Sheetrock and other materials before the homes get even more toxic.

Robbie Lowrey (left) fist bumps Suzanne Musgrove inside a flooded home in Houston.  Lowrey is of a Chapelwood United Methodist team working in homes, while Musgrove belongs to one of the church’s Safety Care Teams, which bring to the work sites wet cloths, Popsicles and information about further help for homeowners. Photo by Kathleen Barry, UMNS.

Robbie Lowrey (left) fist bumps Suzanne Musgrove inside a flooded home in Houston. Lowrey is of a Chapelwood United Methodist team working in homes, while Musgrove belongs to one of the church’s Safety Care Teams, which bring to the work sites wet cloths, Popsicles and information about further help for homeowners.

 

“There are safety issues … The window is about to close,” said Dennis Crowe.

Earlier this week, Crowe led a Chapelwood crew working at the home of Dorothy Baker, 92. The teams go where needed, but she’s a fellow church member who had to be evacuated by boat from the house where she’s lived for more than four decades.

Crowe’s team used crowbars and power tools to pull out ruined Sheetrock. They also carefully packed dishes and other items for storage in the garage or second floor.

“We’re packing people’s things, their keepsakes,” said Robbie Lowrey. “And you know every single thing has a story. … It’s very emotional.”

Chapelwood United Methodist Church volunteer Frank Richey gets fresh air while helping to clean out a flooded home in Houston. Photo by Kathleen Barry, UMNS.

Chapelwood United Methodist Church volunteer Frank Richey gets fresh air while helping to clean out a flooded home in Houston.

 

Frank Richey joined packing and hauling out boxes. He said he felt obliged to be there, given that his house escaped damage. But he also noted that he’d heard a strong sermon at Chapelwood on Sunday, Sept. 10, on the necessity for Christians to respond to the Harvey crisis.

“Sort of gave me a kick in the tail,” he said.

A couple of streets away, another Chapelwood team worked at the home of Dan Cho. Cho said he built the home 38 years ago ago, carefully sitting it three feet higher than the city required.

The home had never flooded, and didn’t after Harvey until the release of water from a threatened reservoir nearby, Cho said.

An emotional Dan Cho describes the extensive flood damage to his Houston home as Anne Thomas, of the city's Chapelwood United Methodist Church, stands by. Chapelwood has had teams mucking out homes flooded in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, and Thomas was part of a team working at Cho's on Sept. 11. Photo by Kathleen Barry, UMNS.

An emotional Dan Cho describes the extensive flood damage to his Houston home as Anne Thomas, of the city's Chapelwood United Methodist Church, stands by. Chapelwood has had teams mucking out homes flooded in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, and Thomas was part of a team working at Cho's on Sept. 11.

 

He didn’t have flood insurance and now, living on a fixed income, he’s doubtful he can afford to rebuild.

Of the volunteers from Chapelwood and other groups that have come to help him, Cho said: “That’s the good news. They’ve been trying to comfort me.”

Indeed, Crowe said offering emotional support is as important as pulling out Sheetrock. That includes praying with affected families.

“Prayer is all over this,” said Rita Stuckey, a Chapelwood member and niece by marriage of flood victim Baker.

Volunteers from Chapelwood United Methodist Church in Houston

Volunteers from Chapelwood United Methodist Church in Houston "embody grace" by volunteering in homes flooded by Hurricane Harvey. Here they pause for prayer. (From left) Helen Crowe, Mary Fuller, Suzanne Musgrove, Daniel Solis and Dennis Crowe.

 

Chapelwood even has “safety care teams” who show up to support volunteers mucking out houses. Mary Fuller and Suzanne Musgrove were making the rounds on Sept. 11, offering cold washcloths and popsicles.

“We’re also here to make contact with the homeowner and make sure they know the resources we have available at Chapelwood,” Fuller said. “We have legal assistance, FEMA questions that can be answered, insurance support, tax support.”

When the floods came, Windsor Village United Methodist immediately turned itself into an emergency overnight shelter.

Winita and Larry Young, Hurricane Harvey flood victims, find donated clothing at Windsor United Methodist Church in Houston. Photo by Kathleen Barry, UMNS.

Winita and Larry Young, Hurricane Harvey flood victims, find donated clothing at Windsor United Methodist Church in Houston.

 

“That's the Christian thing to. It’s the Wesleyan thing to do. It was a slam dunk for us,” Caldwell said.

The church’s shelter phase has passed, but it continues to operate a distribution center for flood victims in need.

“What they needed initially was food and water,” said Sandra Short, a leader of the church’s volunteers. “Afterward, clothing and personal hygiene items. Later on, as they could get back in their houses, they needed cleaning supplies.”

Zamora Contreras, age 13, helps sort items for folks in need following flooding from Hurricane Harvey. She’s a member of Westbury United Methodist Church in Houston, and the church’s gym has become a distribution center for donated items.  Photo by Kathleen Barry, UMNS.

Zamora Contreras, age 13, helps sort items for folks in need following flooding from Hurricane Harvey. She’s a member of Westbury United Methodist Church in Houston, and the church’s gym has become a distribution center for donated items.

 

Short has worked at the church all but one day since the floods hit.

“Missed one day because I have a new grandchild,” she said. “I had my ʽNana’ day on Friday.”

For Windsor Village, as for Chapelwood, providing emotional and spiritual support to victims has been a priority.

“We were able to love on them and make them feel that, even though they were going through a difficult time, we were with them,” said Rhonda Robertson, volunteer coordinator.

Four-year-old Joely Salguero and Marty Pineda carry supplies distributed by Houston’s Westbury United Methodsit Church to flood victims of Hurricane Harvey. Photo by Kathleen Barry, UMNS.

Four-year-old Joely Salguero and Marty Pineda carry supplies distributed by Houston’s Westbury United Methodsit Church to flood victims of Hurricane Harvey.

 

Houston’s Westbury United Methodist Church is another that has sent teams to muck out houses. Westbury is also distributing supplies to victims.

But when Houston public schools closed because of the flooding, Westbury also provided supervised care for children.

“We threw together what we call Camp Harvey, because it’s impossible to take care of your house when there are kids around,” said the Rev. Danny Yang, pastor.

The Rev. Danny Yang, senior pastor at Westbury United Methodist Church in Houston, shows the church gym, where supplies are sorted for flood victims. In the background is volunteer, Zamora Contreras, age 13. The church has found various ways to help since Hurricane Harvey, which flooded Yang out of his home. Photo by Kathleen Barry, UMNS.

The Rev. Danny Yang, senior pastor at Westbury United Methodist Church in Houston, shows the church gym, where supplies are sorted for flood victims. In the background is volunteer, Zamora Contreras, age 13. The church has found various ways to help since Hurricane Harvey, which flooded Yang out of his home.

 

Yang knows, since he too was flooded out, and depended on 13-year-old church member and Camp Harvey volunteer Zamora Contreras to look after his baby daughter.

Most Houston schools resumed this week, but Kolter Elementary, a neighbor of Westbury, is still out due to flood damage. So Camp Harvey continues.

Katy Sabayrac, director of family ministries for Westbury, acknowledged worrying about whether there would be enough volunteers. So far, there have been.

“Every day, I’m like, ʽAll right, we can make it today,’” she said.

Helen Crowe from Chapelwood United Methodist Church in Houston dumps a load of debris in the front yard of a home flooded by Hurricane Harvey. Photo by Kathleen Barry, UMNS.

Helen Crowe from Chapelwood United Methodist Church in Houston dumps a load of debris in the front yard of a home flooded by Hurricane Harvey.

 

Volunteers from Westbury, Chapelwood and Windsor Village all noted the support they’d received from out-of-town churches, and even from out of state.

Two young women from Chicago used airline passes to get to Windsor Village, presenting the church with suitcases full of supplies.

Windsor Village and another Texas church also received for flood relief an entire Sunday offering of Georgianna United Methodist Church in Merritt Island, Florida. A few days later, that church was lin Hurricane Irma’s path.

Caldwell said Windsor Village he would be checking on whether Georgianna United Methodist was in need, and, if so, would engage in some philanthropic reciprocity.

“We’re going to send that offering back to them, with some interest,” he said.

But the Rev. Corky Calhoun, pastor of Georgianna United Methodist, said that would not be necessary. His church lost electricity for a few days, had some minor flooding and has some debris to clear away. But nothing that would require a gift in kind.

"We came through it basically OK," Calhoun said. "I love what they're doing at Windsor Village. It was a no-brainer to kind of put the money in their hands." 

Dan and Grace Cho stand by the fireplace of their Houston home, which flooded following Hurricane Harvey and the release of water from a nearby reservoir. Photo by Kathleen Barry, UMNS.

Dan and Grace Cho stand by the fireplace of their Houston home, which flooded following Hurricane Harvey and the release of water from a nearby reservoir.

 

United Methodists wishing to help can make donations directly through UMCOR's Domestic Disaster Response Advance #901670.

Sam Hodges, a writer for United Methodist News Service writer, lives in Dallas. Contact him at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org
News Media Contact: Linda Bloom at 615-742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.
To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests