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In Virginia, Churches Rally for Tornado Recovery

In Virginia, where tornadoes struck five months ago, recovery is quietly commencing, often boosted by small churches with big hearts for helping.

Mt. Vernon United Methodist Church (UMC) in Ruther Glen, Va. — a congregation with 20 adults — held an ice-cream social and raised $210 for recovery efforts. Central UMC in Staunton hosted a barbecue, and Mountain View UMC in Forest planned a large yard sale. St. Andrew's UMC in Richmond and First UMC in Hopewell held an after-worship luncheon.

Every dollar, every volunteer, every prayer helps, said Forrest White, disaster recovery manager for Virginia's first long-term disaster recovery since 2003, when Hurricane Isabel barreled through the state.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is supporting the efforts of the Virginia Annual Conference with funding to help cover the costs of disaster case management, construction and volunteer management, and material supplies. "Because the disaster did not receive a federal disaster declaration, that assistance is vital," noted Greg Forrester, assistant general secretary for U.S. Disaster Response.

At least eight tornadoes touched down in southern and southeastern Virginia on February 24, 2016. Appomattox, Essex, and Sussex counties were the most heavily impacted. Four people died, dozens were wounded, and more than 400 homes were damaged or destroyed. One-fourth of these dwellings were uninsured or underinsured.

Now, not only local churches but those from afar are reaching out. Volunteer teams have filled the calendar through August in Waverly — a town about 55 miles southeast of Richmond that was particularly hard hit — and White is expanding the reach of recovery teams into other communities.

The Rev. Jack Amick, senior director of UMCOR Disaster Response, added, "It is an example of how UMCOR responds to even the smaller disasters and fills gaps where needed to alleviate suffering."

What keeps White and his team going? "We enter disaster recovery ministry because of the survivors, determined to walk alongside them, to provide a caring, Christian presence, and to help them return home," he said.

White acknowledged that recovery can be frustrating at times, even for those who preach patience. "It's easy to talk about patience when you have a house waiting for you when the day ends," he admitted.

As he handles church relations, fundraising and grant writing, he finds himself sustained by the support that comes from churches, team members, and survivors themselves. "The support of the churches from within the Virginia Conference is a beautiful story emerging in the midst of this recovery," he said.

He estimated the Virginia Conference Disaster Recovery Ministry will need more than $2 million to finish recovery. "I believe our churches realize we cannot do this recovery without their support," he said.

Susan Kim, journalist and a regular contributor to
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