PDA’s newest volunteer host site commissioned in Mississippi

Ceremony follows March tornado damage in Rolling Fork and Silver City

by Stephanie Patton | Special to Presbyterian News Service

Members of the National Response Team of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance took part in a volunteer host site commissioning ceremony at Leland Presbyterian Church in Mississippi on Oct. 29. (Photo by Nell Herring, PDA)

Leland Presbyterian Church in Mississippi welcomed four members of the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) National Response Team on Sunday, Oct. 29, as part of a commissioning ceremony for the church’s recently established disaster recovery volunteer host site as well as for the site’s coordinator.

The host site, called Windward, will be used to house volunteers who come to the area to help with disaster recovery but also will be used to house volunteers who come to help with other community improvement projects.

“We are so proud of the church for engaging in this hard and holy work of disaster recovery and we look forward to witnessing how volunteer efforts help rebuild Rolling Fork,” said the Rev. Nell Herring, Mission Specialist for Volunteer Ministries for PDA.

The host site was established following the devastating EF-4 tornado that leveled the Mississippi Delta communities of Rolling Fork and Silver City last March. Over 20 people lost their lives in the storm, and over 70% of the community of Rolling Fork was destroyed. Wind gusts up to 200 mph debarked trees, mangled cars and destroyed homes.

“Many of our church members went to the Rolling Fork community just hours after the storm to help with rescue efforts and support residents with hot food, water and supplies,” said the Rev. Ann Kelly, Leland’s pastor. “We saw first-hand how horrific the storm damage was to the area. It was heart-breaking.”

The Rev. Ann Kelly, pastor of Leland Presbyterian, said the church had a desire to help with long-term recovery after tornado damage in the area in March. (Photo by Nell Herring, PDA)

Following the tornado, Leland Presbyterian also participated in a communitywide effort to establish a volunteer housing facility at the local Leland community center. The center housed 40 volunteers from Oklahoma who came to help with debris removal. Following that experience, church members began thinking about what else could be done for long-term recovery.

“We have this great education building, but it wasn’t being used fully,” Kelly said. “After the tornado hit, it became clear that the space would be perfect to house long-term volunteers. We reached out to PDA, and they helped us figure out what we needed to convert the space into a host site.”

A hosting grant from PDA was used to purchase mattresses and a separate grant awarded through Volunteer Mississippi was used to retrofit the space with keycode door entries, water stations, plumbing/electrical work, linens and enhanced Wi-Fi.

“PDA seeks to empower local Presbyterians to help their communities recover from disaster,” Herring said. “We were eager to come alongside Leland Presbyterian Church to open this volunteer host site.

Windward can accommodate up to 20 volunteers at a time and provides bathrooms, a shower trailer, meeting spaces and a fully functional kitchen.

To learn more about Windward or to schedule a volunteer work group, please contact the PDA Call Center at 866-732-6121 or pda.callcenter@pcusa.org.

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is one of the Compassion Peace and Justice ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

Writer Stephanie Patton attends Leland Presbyterian Church.

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