Bridging Katrina recovery gaps


By Woody Woodrick

Advocate Editor

GULFPORT – Many United Methodist churches along the Gulf Coast are engaged in effective recovery efforts following Hurricane Katrina.

Ed Blakeslee hopes to work with those churches by providing additional resources and support. Blakeslee is the conference coordinator for the Mississippi United Methodist Katrina Response, the organization that will provide guidance to United Methodist recovery efforts. Blakeslee said the Katrina Response staff seeks to enhance what local churches are doing, not take over their work. “We have to integrate what we do with the local churches,” he said.

“We need to get people in place and get them trained,” said Blakeslee, who is retired from Mississippi Power and a member of Gulfport Trinity UMC. “Then we have to figure out how to integrate with the local churches. Each one is doing something different.”

Mississippi UM Katrina Response hopes to serve as a bridge connecting the Mississippi Conference, United Methodist Committee on Relief and the local churches. Already, seven staff members are in the field. They include Blakeslee, four regional coordinators, a coordinator of logistics and a regional construction facilitator (see above). The Disaster Response Center, located in Meridian, also falls under the Response umbrella.

“We are delighted to have the leadership of Ed Blakeslee as we continue to move forward in disaster recovery,” said Bishop Hope Morgan Ward. “We continue to build the team of staff that will make possible the long-range recovery effort.

“Excellent leaders are in place in Laurel and in three locations on the coast – west, central and east. These four offices are working under Ed’s leadership to put in place continued support for local churches and collaborative services to those impacted by Katrina. In all these ways we are UMCOR – United Methodists committed to ongoing relief,” Ward said.

The regional coordinators are responsible for all work within a specific region. The logistics coordinator will coordinate volunteers and management of materials and resources flowing into the specific regions. The construction facilitators will have experience in construction and will coordinate projects and materials.

Several other positions are yet to be filled.

An immediate priority, Blakeslee said, is finding a warehouse and volunteer housing in Hancock County. That area was among the hardest hit on the coast. “We will probably have to construct something to house the materials and volunteers,” he said.

Since the storm hit Aug. 29, more than 5,000 volunteers have been assigned work through the DRC, said Logistics Coordinator Chris Bowers, who has been scheduling work teams through the DRC for two months. Many other volunteers have helped out after directly contacting churches on the coast, he said.