BY JOHN W. COLEMAN
Leaders of St. John’s UMC in Tremont, Pa., Schuylkill County, are working with Eastern PA conference and district disaster response officials to help their community recover from recent storm flooding that caused extensive damage to homes and other buildings.
Five days of relentless rain and flash flooding last week left the Tremont and Pine Grove areas “a soggy mess, closing roads and businesses, sending creeks and streams spilling over their banks and requiring rescues and evacuations, reported WNEP-TV News. Several area major entertainment venues—Hershey Park, ZooAmerica and Knoebels Amusement Park—had to shut down temporarily due to the flooding.
With about 70 properties damaged, many residents found temporary shelter but now must determine how to recover and find restoration for their homes and their peace of mind. St. John’s UMC Tremont, the Rev. Steve Morton, North District Superintendent, and a conference/district disaster response team are trying to help.
Morton visited St. John’s UMC, which was undamaged, for worship July 29 and got a quick tour of the flood damaged town from the Rev. Ken Edwards, pastor. He saw the local American Legion building, a common gathering place, thrown off its foundation, which was washed away, and houses “damaged by porch-high, raging waters, leaving basements and some first floors flooded.”
Morton made available $3,000 in district funds Monday to help the 11-member congregation respond to legitimate, dire, uninsured needs among its neighbors. He also called on North District churches to “help your brothers and sisters in Tremont be the body of Christ in the community by replenishing these funds and perhaps providing more?” Funds for “North District Response to the Tremont Disaster” may be sent to the Conference Office.
Meanwhile, West District Disaster Response Coordinator Dwain Hostetter, a member of Church of the Good Shepard UMC in nearby Lebanon, has also visited the church and community to assess the damage. He has reported findings from Tremont and Pine Grove to his more distant North District counterpart, the Rev. Sarah Fernsler, and to Conference Disaster Response Coordinator Robert Simcox.
St. John’s member and disaster response site coordinator Suzanne Schach is providing further information about local needs and working closely with borough officials. The full team and other church members will meet at the church Friday, August 3, at 6 PM. Simcox will try to organize an Early Response Team to work in the community.
The flooding severely damaged Kirsten Wessner’s family, especially the kitchen floor and falling cabinets. “They tried cleaning and saving what they could,” Schach reported. “They were a little reluctant to ask for help but agreed to make the contact. They could definitely use the help.”
Another resident, Amanda Cole, had to leave her home after the first floor flooded with up to four feet of water, leaving mold. She has no flood insurance. Her family’s brief hotel stay, thanks to the Red Cross, ends Saturday. After that, they may be rendered homeless.
“They are out of money, and she doesn’t know what to do…but she will stay in contact with Suzanne,” reported Hostetter, citing several more flooded homes with mold in their basements and the need for a case manager. “We need to get operations up and running as soon as we can. Suzanne is doing a wonderful job working in her community.”
St. John’s wants to “provide some light for our community soon,” said Schach. “They (residents) are stressed and struggling emotionally because they have nowhere to turn for help. The people we visited are already uplifted and grateful for our support.”
“The disaster response ministry is all in,” said Simcox. “There is a process to go through. The one thing we do is ensure that the ownership of the disaster belongs to the community. We will support them with needs as they arise. If St. John’s is on fire to be the face in the community in flood relief and recovery, then we are there to support them!”
Any outside volunteers who want to help with the disaster recovery effort onsite should contact Bob Simcox at firstname.lastname@example.org or (610) 427-0470.
The Rev. B. Kenneth Edwards, pastor of St. John’s UMC, can be reached by telephone at 484-479-6655 or by email at HisHands@ptd.net.