- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Churches across the Washington area are extending a helping hand to victims of Hurricane Katrina, offering money, goods and shelter until the Gulf Coast is rebuilt.

The Washington Annual Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Churches met yesterday for a brainstorming session on how to help the victims and delegate relief duties among its more than 80 local churches.

About 100 pastors, church members and area residents gathered at Reid Temple A.M.E. Church in Glenn Dale to chip in with relief ideas such as organizing a store where victims can get items such as dishes and toiletries.

“This is not just a six-month project we’re talking about,” said the Rev. Rodger H. Reed, pastor of Campbell A.M.E. Church in Southeast and coordinator of the conference’s relief task force.

“This is something we’ll be dealing with for the next two to three years. Our concern is to respond to the needs of all the victims — those who are directly affected and those who are indirectly affected.”

The conference has set up a headquarters for the relief task force at Campbell A.M.E., where counseling, among other things, will be provided to help victims cope, Mr. Reed said.

The relief efforts initially will focus on the children of the refugees, preparing backpacks for their return to school.

The churches also called for people to donate new undergarments and clothing, particularly attire that refugees can wear to job interviews.

“We’ve also set up a finance committee to deal with finding funding beyond even our parishioners,” Mr. Reed said. “The funding organization is out there so that we can better utilize funds that are available to meet the needs of the people.”

Reid Temple A.M.E. has been collecting donations for hurricane victims since Sunday, said the Rev. Lee P. Washington, the pastor at the church. About $50,000 has been raised at the 7,000-member church, he said.

At McLean Bible Church in Fairfax County, more than 200 church members have volunteered to join teams traveling to Louisiana in the next several months.

McLean Bible will partner with three churches in Baton Rouge to decide where help is most needed. The church also is accepting monetary contributions and donations of items such as bottled water and baby diapers to be shipped to Louisiana.

Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Northeast is working with the Metropolitan Police Department to collect items, specifically new underwear, for evacuees temporarily housed at the D.C. Armory. More than 200 refugees have been staying at the armory since they arrived Tuesday.

“I’ve already taken two big containers of underwear down to the police station,” said Josh Coover, 26, a deacon at Capitol Hill Baptist. “We had two big plastic bins of underwear, probably close to 30 Wal-Mart- or Target-sized bags full. And we expect more to come.”

At National Community Church on Capitol Hill, about 70 members volunteered to go south to help clean up and rebuild. They also are collecting money that will be donated to Convoy of Hope, a nonprofit that serves in the United States and worldwide providing services such as disaster relief.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Arlington has accepted 10 hurricane victims into its schools. It also will take a special collection Sept. 17 and Sept. 18 for Catholic Charities USA, the membership association of one of the nation’s largest social service networks.

Catholic Charities officials said the organization is helping pair up displaced people at the D.C. Armory with homeowners and apartment building owners who volunteered to open their space for victims. It has asked for people to take in evacuees for at least 90 days for free.

Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, archbishop of Washington, asked all area parishes to take up a special collection this month. The archdiocese also has enrolled students into its schools.

Maryland Delegate Emmett C. Burns Jr., pastor of Rising Sun First Baptist Church near Baltimore, said his parishioners raised more than $7,000 to finance families from Mississippi to relocate to Baltimore. “We felt that just throwing money at it and its victims is [an] admirable thing to do, but we wanted to go a step further,” he said.

The Baltimore County Democrat said he will leave Wednesday for his home state of Mississippi. “The church is prepared to pay their cost, find them jobs and help get them get back on their feet for as along as it takes,” he said, “because it is the right thing to do.”

Meanwhile, officials throughout the region widened relief efforts.

More than a dozen D.C. firefighters headed to the Gulf Coast. A six-member task force from Arlington County left yesterday for New Orleans. The task force includes members of the fire and police departments and the Office of Emergency Management.

At the D.C. Armory, the D.C. Department of Health maintained three first aid stations, said Dr. Gregg Pane, the city’s health director. About 20 of the about 200 people who had sought attention had been hospitalized. Others were given prescription medicine.

The department also was caring for pets, which evacuees were allowed to keep in the armory.

Evacuees are being offered emergency unemployment assistance and access to food stamps and other financial help, said an official with the D.C. Department of Human Services.

City officials gave the refugees a free pass to see any Washington Nationals home baseball game this season. One of the refugees threw out the ceremonial first pitch before last night’s game at RFK Stadium.

In Maryland, the state’s Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services said it plans to send up to four tractor-trailers full of clothes and supplies to the affected region.

The chairmen of the state Democratic and Republican parties announced they are working together to collect bottled water, baby food and other goods. The parties said people could drop off donations at Office Movers sites in four cities this weekend: Lanham, Rockville, Linthicum and Frederick.

In Virginia, state officials surveyed Fort Pickett and the Virginia United Methodist Assembly Center, both near Blackstone, as they prepared the sites to house about 3,000 refugees.

• Robert Redding Jr. and Ken Wright contributed to this story, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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