“We Wanted to Find a Way to Help.” (Stories of the Relief Effort)

On Friday, October 7, the Wesley United Methodist Church on Market Street in Bloomsburg served the last of its AGAPE-sponsored, post-flood lunches. By the end of that day’s service, the church and AGAPE volunteers, led by Wesley kitchen coordinator Tracy Beere, served over 17,000 meals to members of our community during this time of crisis. Some of us needed to eat because our kitchens were destroyed and we could not cook for ourselves. Some of us were hungry after a long morning of volunteering to clean-up. And some of were simply too distracted to realize we were hungry until someone came to our door and reminded us of that fact.

No matter what the reason, Beere and the team of the volunteers prepared bagged lunches (which contained a sandwich, a small bag of chips, a piece of fruit, and a snack), pints of fresh-made soup, and hot coffee. They next went out to the flood-affected neighborhoods and delivered their goods door-to-door to anyone in need of them. At the end of each prep and delivery shift, the Wesley kitchen was then cleaned and prepared for the whole cycle to repeat again the next day.

While instances of area residents pitching in and helping out their neighbors during this crisis are plentiful, Bloomsburg also had help from beyond her borders by many caring individuals, businesses, and organizations. One such helping hand was extended all the way from Missouri.  Convoy of Hope, a Springfield-based charitable organization with its own disaster response command center and fleet of tractor trailers, not only donated but delivered 6,700 trays of frozen vegetarian lasagna to AGAPE for local distribution in one of their 53-foot, 18-wheelers. Each tray was large enough to yield 10-12 meals (as of 2010, the population of Columbia County was 67,295. In other words, Convoy of Hope donated a meal to every single resident of Columbia County).

The chain that stretched the thousand miles from Convoy of Hope all the way to Bloomsburg had a few local links in it. The President of AGAPE is David Rosenberger, who is also the pastor at the New Testament Assembly of God Church in Millville. According to Rosenberger, “In the first day or two after the flood, Keith Evans (the pastor of the Assembly of God Church in Berwick) and I were trying to figure out what we could offer to the flood relief.  We almost instantly thought of Convoy of Hope, an Assembly of God organization.”  Pastor Rosenberger reached out to his contacts and was able to get several offers of help.  Initially the offers were for things that weren’t needed (or for things that AGAPE already had enough of), but Convoy of Hope and Rosenberger eventually came up with the lasagna donation.  Once they had the means to keep it cold (thanks to Weis Markets ), the huge donation was packed up and delivered.

And while the response in terms of the volume of donations to AGAPE has been overwhelming, nothing will be going to waste. Chapman explained that some of the donated materials will be kept in reserve as a ready-stock for future disasters, clean-up, and ongoing assistance. The remaining materials will be go to others who have more immediate needs.

This transfer of donations is partially possible due to the relationship AGAPE has with Mission Central, a charitable organization associated with the Susquehanna Conference of the United Methodist Church. Based in Mechanicsburg, PA, Mission Central serves as one of many hubs across the United States for mutually-assisted, community based disaster relief. After the needs of any particular community are met, hubs like Mission Central maintain a stock of supplies to send to similar local hubs for other communities that may be in need. Likewise, these hubs also receive donated material back from across the nation if a particular need arises in their area.

Chapman stated that when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, some donated materials from Bloomsburg were sent to New Orleans through Mission Central, and in these past few weeks, in our time of need, Mission Central helped collect from other hubs and channel those donations and stocks of material to Bloomsburg and other towns along the Susquehanna. AGAPE will also be “paying it forward” by reallocating some donations on to other local communities that suffered the effects of Tropical Storm Lee – Nescopeck and Shickshinny in particular.

To all that pitched in with help near and far, from all of those you helped in any way: Our sincerest thanks.

Reported by Jen Ralston, Marilyn Witherup, Laurilyn Witherup-Bailey, Kristin Camplese, and Derek Gittler

Photograph by Kristin Camplese