Workshop aids faith-based groups in disasters

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. (AP) — When disaster strikes, faith-based organizations are often among the first to respond. Now, Missouri is hosting a series of workshops to help them hit the ground running when something bad happens.

About 60 people gathered recently in Cape Girardeau for one of the six Missouri Governor's Faith-Based Organization Disaster workshops that will be held throughout the state through May 4, the Southeast Missourian reported (http://bit.ly/IX2NQh).

Missouri Department of Public Safety spokesman Mike O'Connell said the workshops are designed to strengthen response to disasters and emergencies.

O'Connell said faith-based groups are often the first to provide food and shelter, and to pitch in to help remove debris and perform emergency tasks. But sometimes a group will get so many volunteers that coordination can be difficult.

"During a disaster, you're going to get an onslaught of volunteers, but you won't know what to do with them all," O'Connell said.

At the Cape Girardeau workshop, the Rev. Aaron Brown's voice broke as he recalled telling someone from his Joplin congregation that the devastating May 22 tornado had killed a relative.

That twister was so devastating that Brown, pastor St. Paul's United Methodist Church in Joplin, had to organize a team to contact every member of the church and check on their well-being. Days later, a man Brown barely knew reached out and hugged him.

He said it felt like a hug from Jesus himself.

When disaster strikes, people show up from all over to help out. O'Connell said organizations like AmeriCorps specialize in finding tasks for volunteers.

Faith-based groups can focus on what they do best. For example, O'Connell said if a church has a ministry to the poor, it already has a connection to that part of the community.

Brown warned against spending too much time gathering clothing and supplies for disaster victims. He said overenthusiastic volunteers arrived in Joplin with mountains of products, but there were no structures left in which to store them.

"What we really need in an emergency are volunteers and money," Brown said.

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