Episcopal Relief & Development Supports Three Gulf Dioceses Caring for Communities Affected by Oil Spill

August 10, 2010

Even though the oil well has been capped and clean-up measures are moving into a new phase, the economic and emotional impact of the April 2010 oil spill is still devastating the Gulf Coast. With the help of Episcopal Relief & Development, Episcopalians from Louisiana to the Florida panhandle are responding to the needs of their communities. Episcopal Relief & Development’s USA Disaster Response Program is helping to equip these dioceses and parishes to meet both the immediate and longer-term needs of people struggling to put their lives back together after the spill.

The Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast is responding to the crisis by transforming existing parish ministries to meet new community needs. St. Andrew’s By-the-Sea in Destin, Florida, has expanded its feeding and homeless ministries to serve individuals and families who have been hurt by the collapse of the local fishing and tourism industries. According to leaders at St. Andrew’s, the 60-70% drop in vacation bookings and even sharper decline in chartered fishing trips has had a trickle-down effect on related industries, from hotels and seafood companies to restaurants and small businesses. The town had already experienced job loss due to last year’s economic downturn, and the oil spill has only made things worse.

Adding to the challenges in Destin is the influx of people from out of state seeking clean-up jobs with BP. These individuals arrived in Destin and other Gulf Coast towns hoping to secure temporary employment, but discovered on arrival that BP had placed a residency requirement on the jobs. Stranded without employment or resources, these people are also turning to St. Andrew’s for food and assistance. Already stretched thin, St. Andrew’s turned to Episcopal Relief & Development for help with their food programs and emergency assistance efforts.

Episcopal Relief & Development supports local parishes and organizations working on the ground to provide relief where it is most needed. By bolstering existing initiatives and relying on relationships and trust that have been built over time, the agency is able to dedicate more resources directly to people in need. Most importantly, this approach boosts a community’s ability to lift itself out of disaster.

This approach is also helping Trinity Church in Pass Christian, in the Diocese of Mississippi, to help seafood factory and dock workers who have lost their jobs. One of the parishioners at Trinity has long-standing relationships with the people who work on the docks, allowing the church to directly assess and attend to their needs. Currently, Trinity is responding to the need for school supplies for the children of dock workers, and helping the workers to acquire the specialized equipment that will make them employable in the cleanup effort. Episcopal Relief & Development is also giving financial assistance to the church for its Sunday night dinner program, which is serving laid-off seafood factory employees. Thanks to Trinity Church’s deep connections with the people of Pass Christian, the emergency assistance sent by Episcopal Relief & Development is having the greatest possible impact on the difficulties the town is facing.

In addition to responding to the physical and material needs of distressed communities, Episcopal Relief & Development is also supporting the pastoral care that is sorely needed in places where the hurt and uncertainty of this human-made disaster are being felt. In the Diocese of Louisiana, the agency is working closely with Episcopal Community Services of Louisiana (ECSLA) to provide food assistance, gas and grocery cards, information referrals and pastoral care to coastal communities. So far, 244 people have received food assistance through this partnership, and priests and lay ministers were able to talk with over 300 people at two community meals and a health fair in the bayous south of Houma. Helping communities heal emotionally and spiritually is an important part of recovery, and a calling to which faith-based organizations like Episcopal Relief & Development are especially bound.

Responding to emergencies is one way Episcopal Relief & Development lives out Jesus’ mandate to care for those in need. Domestically, the organization has partnered with local dioceses recovering from floods in the Midwest, ice storms in the Dakotas and hurricanes along the Gulf Coast. Internationally, Episcopal Relief & Development has been involved with reconstruction efforts after the earthquake in Haiti, and sheltering and feeding those affected by tropical storms in Sri Lanka. By allowing local knowledge to guide the distribution of resources, Episcopal Relief & Development’s partnerships help vital aid reach where it is most needed.

To support Episcopal Relief & Development’s work, 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.