In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the Columbia-based Office of Creative Ministries is preparing to help pick up the pieces and put some shattered lives back together.
The ministry, affiliated with the United Methodist Church, began accepting donations and preparing to respond as soon as the hurricane hit.
“We’re not first responders, but we are usually there as the last organization to leave,” said Max Marble, the ministry’s director.
The Office of Creative Ministries is encouraging church members to pray, donate money, assemble health and cleanup kits and volunteer to travel to hurricane-stricken areas to provide relief.
The office tries to ensure that all the money it collects goes to people who receive little or no help from other sources, such as insurance companies.
“Our money is for people who fall between the cracks,” Marble said. “We use our funds as a last resort.”
Supplies gathered now will be sent to the Festival of Sharing, an annual interfaith gathering of groups that raise money and supplies throughout the year to fight hunger, poverty and crisis around the world. This year’s festival is Sept. 24 at the Missouri State Fairgrounds in Sedalia. All supplies gathered will be loaded onto an 18-wheeler and driven to Louisiana.
At Columbia’s Community United Methodist Church, members are trying to restore their stock of health kits and supplies after giving many to tsunami relief in Indonesia.
“We collect these things year-round in anticipation,” said Ava Swofford, head of missions at the church. “It’s something we work on all the time, because we know there will be disasters.”
Joe Bartelsmeyer, who coordinates volunteers for the Office of Creative Ministries, said he has never seen such a widespread response.
“I could not tell you how many phone calls I’ve answered today,” he said last week. “They get caught up in the wanting to do, wanting to help. Most of them want to go yesterday.”
Most volunteers will not leave immediately. Some will travel within a few weeks to help clean up debris. Others will go later to help with rebuilding.
Marble said teams would probably continue to be dispatched to the area for years. The idea is to establish a continuing relationship by sending groups of 10 to 15 on a regular basis, he said.
One volunteer is Lynne Jensen-Lampe, a member of Missouri United Methodist Church in Columbia. She used to live in Baton Rouge, La.
“There’s something about the South,” Jensen-Lampe said. “That’s home to me, and I can’t bear the fact that it’s ruined.”
Jensen-Lampe doesn’t yet know when or where she’ll be going, but that doesn’t matter.
“To me, I really see the resourcefulness of the people,” she said. “Their land is so beautiful there. It’s really important to me to have something to do with the rebuilding.”