How to Help in West Virginia Flood Response

Volunteers from Pea Ridge United Methodist Church in Huntington, W. Va., sort flood relief supplies at New Vision Depot in Beaver, W. Va. The depot is the main hub for disaster relief ministry of the West Virginia Conference. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS



UPDATED - Sept. 1, 2016

The first Early Response/Volunteers in Mission (VIM) team from Western Pennsylvania has returned after working in Greenbrier County, WVA from August 25-29 on a mobile for a family who lost their home to flooding in Greenbriar County, WVA. The mobile home was set upon a hill on the property of a relative. 

See more photos

The Western PA Conference will sponsor a series of teams over the coming months and years, said Missions/VIM Coordinator Stephanie Gottschalk, who was part of the first WPAUMC team. Badged ERTs and untrained volunteers over age 18 are welcome to apply.  The estimated cost is $150 plus a donation for materials. Housing is at a local church (sleeping on air mattresses or sleeping bags.) Space is limited. Individuals should apply using the WPA VIM Team application found online at Contact Stephanie Gottschalk for more information. 

Additional Conference teams will be scheduled for September, October, and will continue as needed. They will be listed at

All other United Methodist requests to volunteer should be directed to WVUMC VIM Coordinator Sandy Binotto at  Sandy and her team will then confirm dates, skills, and further logistical planning. Church housing may be available for some teams with a donation requested.  Use this form to volunteer. 

Emergency Response Team Training

Early Response Team trainings are scheduled:

  • September 9, 9am - 5pm at Wesley UMC in Connellsville, PA
  • September 17, 9am - 5pm at First UMC in Kane, PA
  • October 8,  9am - 5pm at Zion UMC in Elton/Johnstown area
The cost is $20.

Those who come to the Connellsville ERT training might consider spending the night and working in that area on Saturday. Fill out the Request to Volunteer to do that.

Donations, Cleaning Buckets Needed

Western Pennsylvania set up a special fund #WV2016, through which churches and individuals can donate and be assured that 100 percent of their donate will go to West Virginia flood relief efforts.

Congregations and individuals in Western PA continue to assemble cleaning buckets, health kits, and bedding kits. See kit instructions. Completed buckets and kits should to taken to the 
Eastbrook Mission Barn,  one of its satellites or the United Methodist Conference Center at 1204 Freedom Road in Cranberry Township. The New Vision Depot, a West Virginia Conference facility in Beaver, West Virginia, currently has volunteers from the area distributing the clean-out buckets and health kits. Because of

Congregations should not collect or send clothing (new or used) to affected areas, Gottschalk said. Donations of used clothing are commonly called “the second disaster.” When clothing piles up at a disaster scene, it must be stored, hauled away or sorted by volunteers who could better use their time helping disaster survivors. Also, those who are staying in temporary housing have little space for clothing or household items. Instead, cash donations help disaster survivors purchase needed items from local businesses, which boost an economy weakened by a disaster. Read more about what NOT to do after a disaster.

A bulletin insert has been created for Western Pennsylvania congregations to use and share. It outlines what steps to take to help. 

Early  response teams from United Methodist churches in West Virginia began the mucking-out phase of relief work after the emergency phase ended and assessments began, but those from other states were not invited to come until later in July.

Certified Early Response Teams are the first to be called to help, Gottschalk explained, because they are self-sufficient, not requiring resources, housing, food or shelter from those in areas where they work. 

WVA Conference prepared for disaster

The West Virginia Conference was well prepared to deal with this emergency, said Greg Forrester, who coordinates U.S. disaster response for the United Methodist Committee on Relief and has worked directly with Lowther, the conference disaster response coordinator.

“We did a capacity building grant with them so they could actually do training with all of their district disaster response coordinators,” Forrester said. “That happened about six weeks ago.”

Those district coordinators, he added, “have been mobilized since the storm.”

The Rev. Jeffrey Allen is a United Methodist elder who serves as executive director of the West Virginia Council of Churches, an ecumenical group that responds to disasters.

“We’ve identified five staging areas across the state where we are deploying clergy to provide pastoral support to persons who have been impacted by the flood and first responders,” Allen said.

“The amount of rain was just unimaginable,” said the Rev. J.F. Lacaria, director of connectional ministries for the West Virginia Conference.

United Methodists are helping with relief efforts in various ways, including churches that served as shelters first, and then became donation and distribution centers.
Rev. Paul Mateer greets members of a youth group
helping to distribute relief supplies at Richwood Middle School. 
See photo album by Mike DuBose, UMNS. ?

Churches Affected

The Rev. Scott Ferguson was away on vacation when the floods hit Clendenin, West Virginia, last week. When he finally got a look at the parsonage of Clendenin United Methodist Church, he realized he and his wife wouldn’t be staying there for a while longer.

“We took about three and a half feet of water in our home,” Ferguson told United Methodist News Service. “Everything downstairs is lost.”

But he’s made progress with mud removal, and he’s determined that he and his congregation will stay the course spiritually during a hard time.

“We just want to make sure God is praised even through the storm,” he said.

In the hardest-hit communities, such as Clendenin, on the Elk River in south central West Virginia, and White Sulphur Springs and Rainelle, in the southeastern part of the state, churches are dealing with their own losses.

A related fatality occurred within Clendenin United Methodist Church. A member died, apparently of a heart attack, while shoveling mud after the heavy rain, Ferguson said.

Along with damage to the parsonage, Clendenin UMC itself took on several feet of water in the basement.

“Everything in that basement is going to have to come out,” Ferguson said. “We lost everything in our kitchen. We lost everything in our fellowship hall. We lost everything in our nursery … The Boy Scouts lost everything in their room.”

Ferguson also leads Brawley Chapel United Methodist Church, a smaller church right on the Elk River. Its foundation, eroded by the floods, continues to move.

“It won’t be long before it’s in the river,” Ferguson said of the church. “It’s a complete loss.”


A Bishop’s Prayer

West Virginia Conference Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball wrote a prayer prompted by the flooding, and it’s posted on the conference website. It begins:

Oh God, hold your children of West Virginia in your strong arms once again. You know the loss, the crisis, the chaos, the pain that is being experienced by those affected by storm and flood. In the midst of this adversity, please be very present with the families and the communities who have been devastated and are searching for things and for answers.

This story incorporates parts of a UM News Service story by Sam Hodges.