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Churches working to feed, clothe evacuees

"We want the people in our pews to know what is needed and the right way to go about meeting those needs."

Those were the words of Rev. Fred Lindstrom of Saint Thomas Episcopal Church on Thursday afternoon during a special meeting of the Greenville Area Ministerial Association.

Lindstrom, president of the association, wanted to share the city's new short-term emergency response plan.

He also wanted to emphasize the ways local congregations can more effectively help those made homeless by Katrina.

It's estimated some 350 evacuees are still in the Greenville area, spread out among seven motels, the Sherling Lake campground and a number of private homes.

The biggest challenge so far? Food.

"It's an awfully big challenge to feed all these people. So many church groups have wanted to help, but they haven't always been able to get the food to the right places," Captain Mike Phillips of the Greenville Fire Deptartment said.

All refugee food donations will now be coordinated by the Butler County Department of Human Resources.

"We want each church to contact DHR concerning the distribution and preparation of food for the evacuees. This way, we are making sure the meals are properly coordinated," Phillips said.

Leesa Syler of DHR said local churches "have always helped when there's been a need."

After screening refugees in area motels, Syler says she saw "so many needs, everything from baby diapers to catheters."

"We will be glad to go in and work with some of these folks on a one-on-one basis if necessary – and we can use just about anything you can bring us," Frieda Stevens of DHR added.

It was suggested churches that do not opt to prepare a meal for evacuees may want to make up bags of non-perishable items, create snack baskets for rooms or toiletry kits for the storm refugees.

"Listen, there are a lot of ways we can help. We just need to make sure we go through DHR so we aren't skipping over anyone in the process," Lindstrom.

A food distribution center has been set up in the fellowship hall of Southside Baptist Church. Both city fire stations and the DHR offices are also accepting donations of non-perishable items, including phone cards.

DHR will also be handling requests for shelter, clothing and basic items, such as toiletry items and school supplies.

Since the small staff may soon be overwhelmed with calls, association member Allen Stephenson suggested those who want to help out consider volunteering at the DHR offices.

"Folks could come in and answer phones or help sort out donations," he said.

Contributions of food, clothing and supplies are all needed, but one gift fits the bill for everyone.

"Money is needed – money is running low for some of these folks and they don't have a way to access their funds," Lindstrom said.

Financial donations can be made through the local ministerial association, as well as through the Butler County Board of Education.

Several school-age evacuees have already been enrolled in the county school system, and Superintendent Mike Looney said a special fund had been set up to help them with uniform needs.

"We want to help these people out and provide for their children's educational needs, even if it's just for a few weeks," Looney said.

In addition to inviting displaced families into their homes, some local residents have also offered rental properties to evacuees.

Local Good Samaritans who need help covering extra expenses as they house and feed Katrina's victims can likely get some assistance through the ministerial association or DHR.

"Keep good records of all that you do, whether as a church or group or as a family. This could be very important later on," Lt. Anthony Barganier of the Greenville P.D. stressed.

Lindstrom again emphasized the importance of providing aid through the proper channels.

"We all want to help, but let's make sure it's the right kind of help…we don't want to cripple people in the process."

To contact DHR about making donations or volunteering, call 382-4400. Contact the Butler County BOE at 382-2665 or 437-1574.

Financial contributions can be made to local Katrina refugees by sending your checks, marked "evacuee assistance" to the Greenville Area Ministerial Association, 210 Church St., Greenville, AL 36037.