As the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaches, relief groups and those involved in the recovery efforts are reflecting on the significant role of the Church in the aftermath of the Gulf Coast disaster.
"The greatest untold story of Hurricane Katrina is the way the Church stepped up and really became The Church in the midst of that crisis," said the Rev. Myles Fish, president and chief executive officer of International Aid to Mission Network News. "At every phase of the disaster response, the Church is the frontline, responding to people in need. It was really quite a story, and it continues to this day."
Katrina victims, aid organizations and government officials – including President Bush – have praised faith-based groups for their immediate and continuous efforts in providing emergency and long-term care for those affected by the historic hurricane.
The United Methodist Committee on Relief, which raised more than $66 million and donated relief supplies worth $7.6 million, was recognized by Newsweek as one of the "big names on Katrina relief." On Sunday, Methodist churches collected offering for the Council of Bishops’ Katrina Church Recovery Appeal.
After Katrina hit, Gulf Coast churches that survived were many times the first to open their doors to shelter the newly homeless and provide food and medical attention to devastated survivors.
Tens of thousands of church-based volunteers from across the nation have traveled to the region to help in the initial clean-up, recovery and currently rebuilding process.
Heather Feltman, director of the Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR), said "Our Work is not completed in the 12 months after Hurricane Katrina and Rita. The Church will remain committed to accompanying those impacted by these storms for years to come."
LDR reported some 15,000 volunteers through its organization contributing some 600,000 hours of service in the Gulf Coast region – efforts worth an estimated $10.5 million in rebuilding.
With focus shifted to the rebuilding phase, most organizations and churches are currently raising funds and manpower to repair and build homes for hurricane survivors. In August, Church World Service – a ministry of 35 U.S.–based Protestant, Orthodox and Anglican denominations – made a joint-announcement with Habitat for Humanity announced on their first-ever partnership to repair 82 Gulf Coast homes of low-income individuals and families still displaced following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The $3 million grant – to be disbursed over a period of two year by HFH to CWS – will support reconstruction projects in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.
Tomorrow, on the day of the anniversary, special church service and prayer gathering will be held throughout the region. President Bush, who will be in the region from Monday to Tuesday, will attend a morning prayer service on Tuesday at New Orleans’s 286-year-old St. Louis Cathedral in the French Quarter.