Episcopal Relief & Development Supporting Gulf Coast Communities after Oil Spill

June 2, 2010

On April 20, 2010, an offshore oil rig exploded and sank, killing 11 people and causing a massive oil spill that is threatening states along the Gulf Coast. Episcopal Relief & Development is working closely with Episcopal Community Services of Louisiana (ECSLA) and their partner Bayou Grace Community Services to reach affected coastal communities in Louisiana’s five-bayou parish of Terrebonne.

In many areas, fishing grounds and oyster beds have been closed because of oil contamination threats, leaving those who earn a living from fishing, shrimping, oyster harvesting and other related businesses without the means to support their families. There has not yet been an emergency food stamp program established in the Terrebonne region, southwest of New Orleans. Due to the 10-day waiting period for the standard food stamp program, families cannot get critical assistance when they find themselves in need. In addition, many families do not have the necessary information to make informed decisions about taking out loans or accepting financial settlements related to the spill.

“We’re working to leverage our existing ministries and connections in the region to reach people who are falling through the cracks,” said Katie Mears, Episcopal Relief & Development’s Program Manager for USA Disaster Preparedness and Response. “This is happening because they can’t access sufficient resources, whether because of transportation challenges, lack of information or uncertainty about the different avenues they might pursue for assistance.”

Critical support will include distributing grocery cards that can be redeemed at local stores, gas cards for those who must travel to reach stores and distributing food items directly from the Dulac Community Center. In addition to food assistance, volunteers will provide legal assistance, pastoral care and information referrals both at the Bayou Grace office in Chauvin and with the help of an ECSLA vehicle. The RV will travel through the area on a set schedule, bringing information to those unable to travel to Chauvin.

“Episcopal Community Services of Louisiana is proud to support the resilient and hard-working residents of our fishing communities, whose livelihoods and very way of life are so gravely threatened by this disaster,” said Nell Bolton, ECSLA’s Executive Director. “As the long-term implications of the spill begin to sink in for all of us, we know that the Church needs to be a steady partner through these challenging times. ECSLA is also fortunate to be in partnership with Bayou Grace, with whom we share many values and whose local networks are invaluable to being able to reach the people most in need of our help.”

“By helping to meet basic needs for food, providing information and pastoral care and offering guidance to address legal questions, we’ll be able to assist families and communities in the face of ongoing anxiety and financial hardship,” said Mears. “It will be extremely effective to tap into the existing network of churches and community centers in the area, because leaders connected with these sites already have a good understanding of the people in need in their communities.”

To learn more about Episcopal Relief & Development’s work or make a donation, please visit www.episcopalrelief.org or call 1-800-334-7626, ext. 5129. Gifts can be mailed to Episcopal Relief & Development, PO Box 7058, Merrifield, VA 22116-7058.

Episcopal Relief & Development is the international relief and development agency of the Episcopal Church of the United States and an independent 501(c)(3) organization. The agency takes its mandate from Jesus’ words found in Matthew 25. Its programs work towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Together with the worldwide Church and ecumenical partners, Episcopal Relief & Development strengthens communities today to meet tomorrow’s challenges. We rebuild after disasters and empower people by offering lasting solutions that fight poverty, hunger and disease, including HIV/AIDS and malaria.