First Presbyterian Church of nearby Cleveland assisting with flood recovery in historic community
by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — When heavy rain led to flooding in the Mississippi Delta in June, members of First Presbyterian Church of Cleveland, Mississippi, were among the volunteers who streamed into nearby Mound Bayou to help residents begin the process of recovery.
Like some other parts of Bolivar County in northwest Mississippi, the town, founded as an independent Black community in 1887, had been hammered by rain and flash flooding during the week of June 8, damaging numerous homes and forcing some people into hotels.
Moved by Mound Bayou’s plight, First Presbyterian began collaborating with area organizations and the city to help provide food and hotel assistance for residents and to help with debris removal with the help of a $7,500 initial assistance grant from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and additional funds from the Presbytery of St. Andrew. There also are plans to do more in the future, such as helping some families buy new furniture, and the presbytery is raising additional money for debris removal.
First Presbyterian is reaching out to Mound Bayou, located just 10 miles away, out of a desire by some members of the congregation to extend beyond the walls of the church to help people in need and provide hands-on assistance, said Bob Reed, an elder designated as the spokesman for the effort.
The church and the presbytery became involved after the crisis in Mound Bayou was brought to the attention of PDA by former Mayor Eulah Peterson, whose sister is a Presbyterian minister.
“This is what it means to be the connectional church,” said the Rev. James Kirk, Associate for National Disaster Response for PDA. “Through our relationships, support from siblings across the denomination can be used to stand with those impacted by disasters.”
When the flooding occurred, there had been about 16 or 17 inches of rain in some parts of the county, an unusually high amount, said Michael Lamb, director of the Bolivar County Emergency Management Agency.
“After talking with some of the older residents that have been there since the ‘40s, they said they’ve never experienced that amount of water in the subdivisions, much less inside their homes,” Lamb said. “Most of Bolivar County is a poverty county and we appreciated all of the assistance that came in with the volunteer organizations that helped our residents to muck out their homes and get back to everyday life.”
Kirk of PDA added that “it is clear that weather events once considered rare are becoming the norm. We must be better prepared and more intentional as we partner with communities.”
St. Gabriel Mercy Center, a nonprofit faith-based organization that works to improve the quality of life for residents of Mound Bayou, is among the organizations to partner with First Presbyterian Church.
“When this flood hit, they (St. Gabriel Mercy Center) received a whole new wave of people that needed temporary help and assistance just coping, so we have sent some of the money to St. Gabriel to help them with their increased demand,” Reed said.
First Presbyterian also has encouraged members to volunteer with Samaritan’s Purse to help with the physical labor of cleaning up and tearing out parts of people’s homes to ready the structures for repairs. Samaritan’s Purse is a nondenominational evangelical Christian organization that provides spiritual and physical aid around the world.
Another part of First Presbyterian’s work in Mound Bayou involved 17 people from the church traveling to the town to help the local C2k Ministries feed displaced residents. “We cooked on site and distributed (at least) 250 meals to the needy folks there in the community,” Reed said.
Phil Schank, president and co-founder of C2k Ministries, said, “the feeding and all of that has been really good,” adding that he’s made and distributed more than 1,500 meals out of his house. But he’d love to see more volunteers from various organizations coming to provide help to get more residents back in their homes.
“We need people to come to our town,” Schank said. “I can set you up with a house and you can hang some drywall. … We still have people living in hotels.”
Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is one of the Compassion, Peace and Justice ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. It is supported by your gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing. To help support PDA’s response to this disaster and other similar disasters, gifts can be designated to DR000191.
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Categories: Disaster Response, Peace & Justice, Special Offerings
Tags: bolivar county, c2k ministries, compassion peace & justice, eulah peterson, first presbyterian church of cleveland mississippi, flooding, mound bayou, One Great Hour of Sharing, phil schank, presbyterian disaster assistance, Presbytery of St. Andrew, rev. jim kirk, Special Offerings, st. gabriel mercy center
Ministries: Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, Compassion, Peace and Justice