Jun 25, 2020

Responding to major flood damage in the Schuylkill County borough of Gilberton, Eastern PA Conference Bishop Peggy Johnson and more than 30 other volunteers came to help Saturday morning, June 20. They met at Gilberton UMC and then moved among flood-stricken homes to help coordinate recovery efforts and provide pastoral care to neighbors.

Conference Disaster Recovery Coordinator Bob Simcox led an Early Response Team (ERT) of nine persons, joined by other volunteers, to help residents recover from the catastrophic rain flooding about a week earlier that reached 8 to 10 feet and overtook much of the town.

Volunteers found damaged homes direly needing removal of soaked drywall, furnishings and debris. They talked with residents, offering encouragement and prayer, and visited vacated homes to assess damage and losses.

“Some of the houses were in terrible shape,” said Bishop Johnson. “The smell was toxic and moldy, and some people were stuck sleeping in there, and with no electricity. The people I talked to were so distraught and without many options.”

Gilberton UMC was spared much damage, but its secretary and organist Cindy Eickhoff’s home was hit hard. Volunteers assessed their home, where she and her husband Richard have lived since 1991. “We’re letting it go,” she said. “The whole house would need to be repaired, the dry wall, the ceiling, and the floor. All our appliances are gone. It’s just too much to fix.” For now, they are living with their son in Frackville.

“The Methodist Church kept in contact with us, and the Red Cross and the Salvation Army brought food in and have been a big help,” a disgusted Josetta Galetz told a reporter. With her first floor reportedly deluged with nearly 3 feet of of water, much her furniture, appliances and flooring sat outside her home Saturday drying out.

About 16 Gilberton homeowners will likely receive assistance, said Simcox, who received their names for assessment from the Red Cross. Families have been displaced and many must now decide whether to rebuild or leave altogether.

“It’s really a grieving process; all of their stuff is ruined,” Simcox said. He reminded volunteers that they were guests and should ask homeowners about their belongings, while asking about their needs. He also reported that he would request a $10,000 solidarity grant through UMCOR to help Gilberton.

“We’re assessing the needs, and I’m pleased and proud to have the United Methodist Committee on Relief,” Bishop Johnson said. She and the Rev. Steve Morton, North District Superintendent, also visited and assisted nearby Tremont and Port Carbon in 2019, as those communities were recovering from severe flooding.

“Despite the horror of the damage we witnessed and the reality of so many families’ lives in upheaval, it was a good day for United Methodist outreach,” recalled Morton. “More than 30 pastors and lay persons from nine different charges on the North District, extended compassion and offers of assistance.”

Lorraine Heckman, the conference’s North District Disaster Response Coordinator and pastor of First UMC in nearby Port Carbon is staying in contact with Bob Schrepple, pastor of Gilberton UMC, the only active church in town, and with local officials.

“We had a wonderful turn out of volunteers on Saturday,” she said. “We were able to conduct assessments on a few homes and assisted one family with some clean out work. It was a privilege to be able to serve as the body of Christ to the folks in this community during this time of need.”

The North District is also seeking donations to be processed through Gilberton UMC and monitored by the district. Morton said initial gifts toward this recovery effort will be matched by District funds up to the first $5,000. Churches and individuals from around the conference and beyond may send donations to the Eastern PA Conference Office,

PO Box 820, Valley Forge PA 19482. Please note “North District Flood Relief” in the memo line.

Individuals and groups who want to provide future disaster response in Gilberton can contact Simcox at drc@epaumc.org.