Churches continue major relief efforts for hurricane survivors

.- Nearly two months after Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, religious groups continue to feed, clothe and house survivors, and they are committed to providing aid for as long as necessary.

Shelley Borysiewicz of Catholic Charities USA told the Washington Times her group has raised a record $63 million to support the disaster relief work of its local agencies, $31 million more than what it raised after 9/11.

Its 70 local agencies have concentrated on getting refugees into housing that could become permanent, such as vacant apartments or in buildings owned by the group.

For example, it has resettled 130 refugees in St. Louis through its Adopt-a-Family housing program, which pays the first month's rent and utility costs for up to six months, and helps families find other necessities. The agency in St. Louis also organized a job fair. A similar resettlement program exists in Los Angeles and Lansing, Mich. It has provided medical care and prescription medicines.

Temporary housing for hurricane refugees is a major component of the relief services that religious groups provide. By the end of September, relief workers estimated that 500,000 people had taken refuge in housing provided by faith-based institutions, reported the Times.

Borysiewicz says Catholic Charities expects to be providing aid to the families for the next three to five years.
Joe Conway of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief said he expects the same. He said his organization has provided more than $11 million worth of in-kind labor since the hurricanes.

The Southern Baptists have been cooking meals for the Salvation Army, the Red Cross and their own relief efforts since the hurricane hit, totaling more than 9.3 million hot meals up to Tuesday. They have also provided more than 65,000 mobile showers for those without water and a variety of other services, including childcare and debris removal.

Nearly 16,000 volunteers from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have also volunteered to clear storm debris in Louisiana and Mississippi. Demand for these services is high, and many people have been quoted fees of $25,000 for the same work the Mormons are doing for free, reported the Times.
Numerous other churches across the country have been fundraising to help meet the needs in the stricken Gulf Coast. Some have even sent trailers filled with nonperishable food, bottled water and other staples to hurricane victims.

About 500 Samaritan's Purse volunteers have also has provided medical teams to care for refugees in shelters and will buy 300 mobile homes for displaced families. It has also donated $25 million toward home repairs.

The churches’ contributions have not gone unnoticed. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced Sept. 26 it would reimburse churches and other religious groups that have provided food, emergency shelter, medical aid and supplies to hurricane victims.

The Times reported that FEMA officials said this would be the first time the government has made large payments to religious organizations for assisting in the aftermath of a domestic natural disaster.

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