By HOLLY McCRAY
Now well into their senior years, the couple always has lived in the modest frame house in southern Oklahoma. They had been so proud to pay off the mortgage. Yet in retirement, their fixed income falls short against ever-rising living expenses. They face health challenges.
Every day brings decisions about money. They know they still should carry home insurance, but it costs so much to live. Do they pay for medicine or insurance?
Then weeks of rain in May brought flooding, water rising from below and pouring in when wind ripped away aged shingles. A Good Samaritan helped patch the roof temporarily.
There is neither insurance nor savings or strength for the elderly couple to make repairs on their own. Embarrassed, they rationalize that someone else surely needs help more than they do.
Summer heat triggers mold growth due to the waterlogged flooring. The roof begins leaking when the patch gives way.
The calendar rolls into autumn.
Hope has arrived in this season.
Grant funds totaling $1 million have been awarded to Oklahoma United Methodist Disaster Response Ministry from UMCOR*, the denomination’s agency for emergency aid and humanitarian relief. Oklahoma will add $250,000 from its disaster response fund, said Richard Norman, who is coordinator of the Conference’s Disaster Response Ministry.
The goal is to repair 500 homes that were damaged in May.
Luke Pratt sees firsthand the poor living conditions for many disaster victims. "To begin with, they’re living hand-to-mouth. A disaster seems like just one more tragedy in a life full of tragedy," he said.
Pratt is the ministry’s construction and volunteer management supervisor. He’s eager to sign up volunteer teams to work on homes, because that will make the $1.25 million go further.
"We can leverage so much more with a volunteer team," he said. Hiring contractors can triple expenses, he has observed.
Volunteers deployed in the state by Oklahoma UM Disaster Response have served 6,632 hours since March, reported Chad Detwiler, when heavy rains flooded homes in the Tulsa area. Their service equates to $142,256.40 in labor value.
In early November Pratt was excited to report that 150-200 people already have signed up to volunteer in spring. They include students from Oklahoma’s campus ministries and groups from out of state.
Pratt also needs workers in January and February. People are needed now, too.
"Volunteers for this are the most crucial, even with all this money," said Rev. Norman.
"We try to get to the most vulnerable people first. The elderly are the ones I really worry about."
In addition to UMCOR, Norman expressed gratitude for other Oklahoma partners in the ongoing recovery work. Catholic Charities, Habitat for Humanity, and Rebuilding Together are among them.
Three long-term community recovery committees are active at this time. Pastor Paul McDowell of Kingston UMC leads the committee in south-central Oklahoma. Two other committees oversee needs in Grady County and in central Oklahoma.
Moore-First UMC continues to provide space for a UM volunteer deployment center. Karen Mangano coordinates that segment of the response.
"Sometimes it’s the invisible disasters that really require the greatest funding," said Greg Forrester, head of UMCOR U.S. Disaster Response. "For the families affected, the impact lasts a lot longer than the news cycle."
Oklahoma’s disaster response ministry was just concluding long-term recovery work after the 2013 tornadoes when this year’s flooding occurred.
"The tornadoes in Moore attracted a lot of funding because the damage was so visible," Forrester said. "That’s more difficult with flooding. The water comes up, does its worst, and then goes away.
"A lot of the destruction is inside the home; you don’t see it from the street."
Norman said the federal government designated 45 of Oklahoma’s 77 counties as disaster areas after the flooding.
He’s "very pleased" for UMCOR’s help. "Because of this Conference’s commitment (to disaster response ministry) and our ability to have construction/volunteer/case management pieces" in place, UMCOR knows the most vulnerable people will get help, he said. — Linda Unger, a senior writer for GBGM, contributed to this story.
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