Gifts connect people after May storms
By Holly McCray
Conference Treasurer Brian Bakeman opened the envelope from a business in Dubuque, Iowa. Inside was a $2,000 check, designated for the Church to use to help rebuild lives after May’s destructive tornadoes in Oklahoma.
That check is one of many money gifts that continue to arrive at the Treasurer’s Office. Each gift represents a choice by someone to show love by action. Behind each donation is a special story.
The Iowa business observed a blue-jeans day. "Everyone who wore jeans contributed X number of dollars, and the company sent the check," Rev. Bakeman said.
"I just love the way people come up with wonderful ways to live out their generosity. The fact that you make it fun to give, I think, makes a huge difference. I think that’s extravagant generosity … going the extra mile and having fun giving away money!"
Bakeman became treasurer in 2006. Donations to the Conference special fund, "2013 May Tornado Relief," have topped all other Conference special funds for disasters since he started the job, Bakeman said.
As of July 8, total giving to that fund was $807,746.84. A higher number announced earlier was the result of an accounting error.
Bakeman also reported that Oklahoma United Methodists donated $41,994 to "One Great Hour of Sharing" before the May tornadoes struck. This special Sunday offering, typically received in March, underwrites the administrative costs for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). That frees 100 percent of other UMCOR donations for use on specific projects for which the money is designated. UMCOR is highly ranked by Charity Navigator and CharityWatch.
Between May 20 and July 2, UMCOR received global donations totaling $2,124,833.12 for U.S. Disaster Response, according to agency official Jay Rollins.
Also opened in the Oklahoma Conference Treasurer’s Office was mail with a check for $15,502.85 from First UMC of Wellington, in the Texas Panhandle. The town of 2,000 people is west of Mangum, Okla.
Pastor Eugene Weinette wrote, "Many of us sat in front of the television with our hearts broken watching the aftermath of the Oklahoma tornadoes that killed seven children in a school.
"What can we do? That question kept coming up. UMCOR was sent out, I was sure. Then they said they needed money to buy basic necessities. That we can do.
"I know you have a fund, so please use this as needed."
The Wellington United Methodists raised that money in 12 days.
Bakeman would cheer the fundraising method; it generated fun, too. The pastor and Tommy Patterson agreed to shave their heads and moustaches if $15,000 was raised.
"One lesson I have learned, over and over, is that when things are done for the right reasons and God is involved, get ready to be changed," said Rev. Weinette.
In Oklahoma, gratitude abounds for all donations, and the funds are being used. Kevin Walker and Sarah Nichols direct a central UMCOR/VIM office operating from Moore-First UMC. They are among the frontline storytellers for where the money goes.
Walker described how funds helped several generations of a family in the El Reno area. The plot of land had two homes, and government funds covered only one. The mother was receiving chemotherapy treatment for cancer; the family was uninsured and on a fixed income. Walker said the family used the money for medical care and repairs on the second home.
A Moore resident operated an embroidery business from home. House and workplace were swept away by the tornado. UM donations helped purchase supplies, so work could resume and generate income.
Walker spoke about funds also helping another family with medical expenses. The son had been injured when a storm-tossed brick struck him in the face.
If you want to help, follow the links at www.okumc.org to donate online or to sign up as a volunteer.
Bishop Robert Hayes Jr. of the Oklahoma Area has been sending thank-you letters to annual conferences. He wrote to Bishop Cynthia Harvey of the Louisiana Area:
"The people of Louisiana are fully aware of loss and trauma, but you are also keenly aware that God is in the midst of every setback and calamity. On behalf of the people called United Methodist in Oklahoma and the thousands who were adversely affected by the May tornadoes, I want to express our heartfelt gratitude for the generous gift of $10,000 from the Louisiana Area."
Bishop Hayes said, "This demonstration of radical generosity is a living example of our unique connection to one another, especially in times of crisis."