Faith-Based Disaster Recovery Organizations Serve an Important Need For Earthquake Victims

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Release date: 
April 5, 2001
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Olympia, WA -- At the far opposite end of the earthquake damage list from bridges, viaducts and buildings are vulnerable and often elderly people.

On a personal level, their needs are as important as buildings but sometimes as complex. Usually they do not require a lot of tax dollars and only a listening ear.

That is the little recognized world of Neil Molenaar, Church World Service regional facilitator. Molenaar is currently working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency's volunteer liaison to coordinate with Washington's faith-based earthquake recovery project.

Soon after the 6.8 Nisqually Earthquake rattled the Puget Sound area on February 28, Molenaar received a telephone call from Arkansas. A Seattle-area woman was visiting there when her mother called from Renton and reported what appeared to her was a major problem.

She related how a bottle of lamp oil had bounced from a shelf during the quake and broke on the floor of her mother's home, damaging the finish. Even though the woman, in her 80's, had already contracted for repairs, there was another problem that was even more serious.

Scattered across the carpet that had cushioned their impacts were more than 100 of the woman's most prized possessions: tiny ceramic figurines.Because of her age, she was unable to pick them up and pack them safely away for storage while the contractor did his work. The caller told Molenaar her mother was very worried about her cherished collection.

Molenaar knew exactly how to deal with the crisis. He telephoned Barb Adams of the Mennonite Disaster Services.

Adams was hesitant to discuss this incident and several others in which members of her Mennonite group aided earthquake victims. They prefer to help people quietly who would otherwise not get assistance. They hope to do so without generating any publicity for themselves.

Four Mennonites went to the Renton home and spent several hours carefully cleaning the figurines, individually wrapping them and gently packing them in boxes.

"Our people listened to her stories about the figurines," Adams said. "And they listened to her story about the earthquake. They felt she needed to talk about the earthquake."

Adams emphasized, "it meant a lot to her that we reached out to her, and being able to help her meant a lot to our people."

A man, in his 70's, didn't have figurines. He had four aquariums filled with fish that had to be moved from his unit in a red-tagged apartment building. Four Mennonites emptied and moved the aquariums, and their fish, to an apartment in a nearby building that had escaped damage. They refilled the aquariums with water and fish and then moved the man's other possessions into the apartment.

During their conversations, the elderly man mentioned another quake victim who needed help, Adams said. After they had settled the man in his new quarters, he gave them directions to the apartment of an elderly woman. Her building was damaged but not red-tagged. The Mennonites found an undamaged apartment building across the street that had a vacancy for her. The Mennonites, now grown to eight in number, rented a truck with money from Molenaar's organization and filled it with the woman's belongings. They backed the rental truck across the street, unloaded it and set up the woman's new home.

All of this was accomplished while providing an ear for the stories and earthquake tales of the victims.

Molenaar said earlier this week he was in the process of assigning cases to his network of local area church groups and expects the total to approach three dozen or more. Most of those needing assistance from faith-based groups are elderly, low income, disabled or non-English speaking. He recalls a telephone conversation with a Longview-area man who sounded very depressed after the quake, the latest in a series of traumas. "I told him 'It sounds like...

Last Updated: 
July 16, 2012 - 18:46
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