Metro Area UMCs Helping Neighbors in Jackson Water Crisis


By Jasmine Haynes, Communications Specialist

Jackson, Miss. –Metro Area United Methodist volunteers and churches are harnessing the power of the connection to prioritize and meet the needs of the over 170,000 people lacking access to safe drinking water due to the Jackson Water Crisis.

Those connected to Jackson’s water supply had already been under boil water notices for over 30 consecutive days when Jackson’s main water treatment facilities began failing Monday, August 29. City and state officials announced they would distribute bottled water as crews work to get water treatment operational again. In the first days of the crisis, broad distribution of clean drinking water was neither fully accessible nor sustainable for Jacksonians and others in the Metro Area impacted by the crisis.

Rev. Dawn Flowers, senior pastor at Parkway Hills UMC hands off water to Rev. Haven Boyd, associate pastor at Parkway Hills.
Mississippi Disaster Response Teams began gathering information from volunteers, churches and other organizations willing to put their faith into action by helping with water or offering to serve as distribution and storage sites. The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), the humanitarian relief and development arm of The United Methodist Church, awarded a solidarity grant of $10,000 to the Mississippi United Methodist Conference to provide water. This emergency grant aims to help meet immediate needs for access to safe drinking water for those affected. Parkway Hills United Methodist Church is one of the many churches collaborating to get the water purchased through that grant to those who need it in the Metro Area. The church has been housing a flatbed of numerous pallets of water for pick up, as well as delivering water. Rev. Haven Boyd, associate pastor of children and outreach at Parkway Hills explained that immediately when the water crisis happened, the church knew there would be a shortage of water supply in Jackson.
A member at Parkway Hills UMC loads water in preparation for deliveries.
“We knew we had the resources available to us and we knew that Jackson’s water problems had been ongoing with a deeper level of disaster on top of a crisis, and we saw the need to get involved and help our neighbors where we can,” said Boyd.

The Mississippi Conference’s disaster response efforts are specifically attentive to preventing clean water from becoming inaccessible to the elderly, disabled and those who lack transportation to water pick up sites. According to Boyd, who lives in Jackson and is also impacted, members of the congregation had already made 40 home deliveries in the first 10 days of the water plant failing. They also toted extra water when they went to deliver at assisted living facilities.

The water at Parkway Hills also served the water needs of students and staff at Methodist Children’s Homes of Mississippi (MCH). MCH, which originally was an orphanage, serves children and youth who have been neglected or abused. MCH is a connectional ministry of the Mississippi United Methodist Conference.
A youth from Methodist Children's Homes of Mississippi gets water to take back to the homes. 

Some teenagers and a few employees from MCH came to Parkway Hills and picked up several cases of water for the nearly 100 students and staff who need access to safe and clean water, as some staff and their families stay on campus with the youth they serve. Keisha Varnell, MCH’s director of program operations estimates that MCH is using between 50 and 55 cases of water a week since the crisis began and had this to say about how the crisis is impacting the children’s homes on a daily basis.

“We are more cognizant of the water that we’re using and more appreciative,” explained Varnell. “We’re having to do more—asking for donations, gathering water from different sources, making sure to monitor the kids more closely when they’re brushing their teeth and when we’re cooking for the kids we’re making sure we’re not using Jackson water so it’s caused us to be hyper vigilant.”
Keisha Varnell, MCH director of program operations

Varnell adds that ironically, the crisis has had a positive impact on MCH morale.

“They’re [the students] seeing not only the city but also the community come together, and it’s also a learning experience for the youth as well because they are learning teamwork, coming together and helping each other,” said Varnell. “The houses are more collaborative and asking each other, ‘what do you need? Do you need me to bring water?’”

Several other churches have been seeking to answer the question, ‘what are the needs of the neighboring communities?’ as well. According to Rev. Jerry Mannery, pastor of We Are One United Methodist Church in South Jackson, scripture talks about who is your neighbor, and that parable calls believers to serve not just next-door neighbors, but also provide help to anyone in need.

We Are One UMC engaged in outreach efforts soon after the crisis occurred with an ecumenical partnership. Mannery said that New Horizon Church International is around the corner from We Are One and they already had a major system in place to provide relief to the community. Due to We Are One being a small membership church, congregants there felt they could best help by aiding a working structure rather than reinventing the wheel.
Rev. Jerry Mannery, pastor of We Are One UMC, prays during Sunday worship service. 

Mannery shared that even though We Are One UMC is still recovering from the pandemic, the church’s response was overwhelming. Although they are small in number, Mannery said that they are very committed and when they heard about the 500 to 1,000 people who were homebound or disabled that reached out to the Mississippi Conference, they were moved to serve. There were approximately 125 people on the We Are One UMC list.

Mannery, who is also a Jackson resident impacted by the water crisis, likened the mindset of his faith community to be of those working on the wall with Nehemiah in Scripture.

“We started right where we were located, divided and conquered, worked on zip codes near where we lived and everyone started repairing the gate or wall in front of their own home,” explained Mannery. “It was like, we’re ready to go y’all—let’s go to work!”
Members of all ages at We Are One UMC transport water for water drop off the elderly and homebound. 

Nearly everyone who attended worship service Sunday at We Are One UMC stayed after to deliver water to people around various areas of Jackson who they have never met. From the youngest little helpers to the young at heart, congregants help load up cars, SUVs and trucks to deliver water to the elderly, disabled and homebound.  

Prior to the water crisis, We Are One also had an established food pantry that serves around 200 families a week who are also receiving water.

“The Bible tells us that those who are whole don’t need a doctor, and so we realize that we’re in an area where there’s a lot of need and we’re just happy to be a hospital in this area,” said Mannery.

As volunteers toted water to dwellings, residents would ask where the water was coming from, and volunteers would inform them about the generosity of the connectional church. Boyd, Varnell and Mannery all shared about the gratitude they were experiencing during deliveries and from those at MCH.

If you would like to make a donation towards the Jackson Water Crisis you can call the Mississippi Conference office at 601.354.0515, or send checks to Connectional Ministries, 320-C Briarwood Drive, Jackson, MS 39206 and put “Jackson Water Crisis” in the memo. This money will be used to purchase water and other items (personal filtration systems, etc.) as we move into the long-term phase of this project.

If you would like to give specifically to the Methodist Children’s Homes of Mississippi, contact Trina McNair at MCH development and donations at 601.853.5000.

320 Briarwood Drive
Jackson, MS 39206
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