CHICAGO – The humanitarian arm of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of American issued nearly $100,000 in grants to the survivors of the California wildfires that surged through the state this fall.
Rev. Gilbert B. Furst, director of Lutheran Disaster Response called the grants a necessity for people “with need for basic existence.” And “helping to minister to the elderly, the poor, the unemployed and the children.”
Planned programs include “Camp Noah,” a weeklong day camp for children traumatized by disasters, and a support for pastors “who are doing intense ministry on the front lines.”
Furst spent several days in San Bernardino and San Diego counties earlier this month to assess the progression of the “two worst of the five counties affected by the wildfires." About 750,000 acres burned and more than 3,600 houses were destroyed; twenty lives were also taken through the fires.
"In all my years of disaster response ministries, I have never seen such widespread and total destruction as I saw these past days in southern California," Furst said.
"Everything was gray and black. The ground was burned and baked. Vegetation was gone and bare boulders showed on mountain sides. In [some] communities there is random destruction. The fires were fanned by the Santa Ana winds, so they acted like tornadoes, randomly destroying one house and not another, burning entire blocks and sparing others. The air smelled of charred wood and was full of ash," he said.
During his stay in California, Furst met with pastors serving Lutheran congregations in Southern California that have been affected by the wildfires. Lutheran Disaster Response has set up offices at several church facilities, including Spirit of Joy Lutheran Church, Ramona, a town in San Diego County, where three people from the congregation died in the fires.
"Lutheran Disaster Response is working in cooperation with the United Methodists in case management and distribution of emergency supplies," Furst said.
Monetary contributions will provide the resources needed to assist with immediate emergency needs, cleanup provisions, long-term and unmet needs, as well as spiritual and emotional counseling, added Furst.
“It will sustain our Lutheran presence, providing ministry to so many [people] who are presently helpless and hopeless, bringing them help and hope in the long haul," he said.
Contributions can be mailed to: ELCA Domestic Disaster Response, P.O. Box 71764, Chicago, Illinois 60694-1764