From dollars, food, and water to prayer, Bibles, and teddy bears, items donated by members of local faith communities are headed south to meet the needs of Hurricane Katrina s victims.
Local clerics and members of churches, temples, synagogues, and mosques said they felt a spiritual compulsion to help those whose loved ones, homes, livelihoods, and even their sense of hope were washed away by the onslaught of wind and water.
Among the outpouring of help from many area religious groups are truckloads of supplies, teams of volunteer laborers, financial assistance, and, thanks to a Findlay teenager, Bibles and teddy bears.
The Rev. Raymond Bishop, pastor of Mt. Pilgrim Baptist Church, said he was swept by emotion when he saw photos of church buses and vans floating in the streets flooded by the Aug. 29 hurricane.
The churches that owned those vehicles should have used them to carry the most vulnerable residents to safer ground, Mr. Bishop said.
Before Katrina ever arrived on the coast, those church vans and buses could have removed people who were sick, elderly, disabled, or had no resources and no place to go. It s convicting to me, and it also speaks to the church, he said.
As a leader in the Christian community, he said, he felt spiritually troubled that so many poor people in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama were forced to face the fury of what well may be the worst natural disaster ever to hit U.S. shores.
We left many of those people behind. They were abandoned, Mr. Bishop said. By and large, it was the upper class and the upper middle class who left town. Before we can expect the government to remove them, it was first and foremost our responsibility, as a community of faith, to help the poor and the destitute. And we all just left those people and that s what hurts.
After witnessing the widespread devastation of Katrina and realizing that the need for help will be massive and ongoing, Mr. Bishop decided to organize a rally among Toledo-area churches.
He is expecting more than 100 ministers and members of their churches to participate in the rally, set for 6 p.m. tomorrow in Savage Hall at the University of Toledo.
There will be two focal points for Katrina s victims, he said: To offer prayers, and to raise money.
Mr. Bishop believes the rally will not only have an impact on storm victims, but also on local Christians who participate.
I believe God is communicating to all of us, sending different messages in different ways, about things like responsibility and compassion. And it s up to the individual to interpret it in their own way, Mr. Bishop said.
The Rev. Lee Powell, lead pastor of CedarCreek Church in Perrysburg, last weekend asked his congregation to donate supplies for hurricane victims, including groceries, bottled water, flashlights and batteries, bug repellent, baby formula, diapers, and other staples.
With an average attendance of 7,000 at its four weekend services, the church responded with enough donations to fill a 53-foot tractor-trailer and then some.
The semi left Perrysburg on Sunday and arrived Monday night in Covington, La., a small community about 50 miles north of the Gulf Coast. CedarCreek had made arrangements to adopt Covenant Christian Church and its 250 members, although the goods were handed out to anyone in the community, not just church members.
Mike Knisely, a CedarCreek pastor, made the 17-hour trip and said many smaller towns are being overshadowed by the urgent needs in New Orleans and other large cities.
We were greeted with open arms all kinds of thank-you s and hugs, Mr. Knisely said while en route back to Ohio. There was one grocery story in Covington and it had been wiped out the shelves were emptied very early after the storm hit and they had nothing. The people were just so thankful for the diapers and baby formula, canned goods, lots of water, paper towels, toilet paper just the basic needs. They said they were so blessed we were there.
A second semi-truck full of goods left CedarCreek s parking lot on Tuesday for Covington and more are scheduled, Mr. Powell said. The church also is giving at least half of this weekend s offering to relief efforts and will send teams of volunteers to the region to help clean up and rebuild.
Mr. Knisely said Covington residents had felt pretty hopeless after enduring the brutal hurricane, losing so much of their possessions, and seeing no help from the government.
Handing out the food and water turned a lot of long faces into happy smiles, he said.
Brandy Willoughby, a 19-year-old resident of Findlay, said she was moved by a slide show at her church, First Assembly of God in Findlay, showing the extent of the storm s destruction.
At first, I didn t realize how awful the hurricane was because I wasn t paying attention to the news. But when our pastor [the Rev. Darrell Ramsey] showed the slide show, I realized that these people lost everything, including their Bibles. And to me, that s an essential. You can go without a lot of clothes, toys, or other things, but a Bible will help you through a tough time.
She began thinking about the children who suffered through Katrina and felt they could use something to hug. With help and support from her grandmother, church, and friends, Brandy created a Web site, www.godslittlechildren.us where people can make donations that will go toward Bibles and teddy bears children in the ravaged areas.
The whole thing took about 12 hours it just snowballed, Miss Willoughby said. As word spread, she soon began getting offers of help from friends of friends and people she didn t even know, she said. The Bible and the teddy bears suppliers were quick to cooperate and as the first few donations begin to arrive, she said she is making arrangements to have the items delivered by Gulf Coast churches.
Members of local Islamic mosques, Jewish synagogues, and the Hindu Temple also are joining in relief efforts.
Everyone really is coming together, said Wendy Goldstein of the United Jewish Council of Greater Toledo. The UJC nationally has collected $4 million in relief funds and there has been an outpouring from all Jewish agencies.
The Toledo Catholic Diocese is working with the national Catholic Charities USA to possibly provide temporary housing for people displaced by the hurricane, according to Sally Oberski, director of communications for the diocese.
Members of the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo and the Hindu Temple of Toledo have raised thousands of dollars for hurricane victims already and are looking into other ways to provide help, officials said.
Contact David Yonke at: email@example.com or 419-724-6154.