Methodist churches help residents recover from hurricane

Laura Garcia By Laura Garcia

Jan. 29, 2018 at 10:21 p.m.
Updated Jan. 30, 2018 at 5 a.m.

Carl Beck, 71, of Austin, secures a tarp to the roof of Marcos Lopez's Home in Victoria. Beck and others with Rio Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church are volunteering their time and skills to help residents get needed repairs completed after Hurricane Harvey. Tarps are used as a temporary fix.

Carl Beck, 71, of Austin, secures a tarp to the roof of Marcos Lopez's Home in Victoria. Beck and others with Rio Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church are volunteering their time and skills to help residents get needed repairs completed after Hurricane Harvey. Tarps are used as a temporary fix.   Evan Lewis for The Victoria Advocate

David Graham runs a measuring tape across the roof of a 77-year-old home off Bottom Road.

The retired Dow Chemical Co. executive closely inspects the roof where water had leaked inside the home and pauses to consider what would be the most cost-effective way to seal the roof.

Joined on the roof by several other volunteers wearing neon yellow T-shirts, they all weigh in on the best course of action.

They decide to cover most of the roof with a layer of thick green tarp.

This is the 60th home Graham has worked on with Volunteers In Mission groups since Hurricane Harvey.

As a volunteer leader of the early response teams, the 67-year-old Austin resident helps coordinate a group of workers to assist with immediate relief jobs.

"We've all kind of learned on the job," he said.

Most of the volunteers on his team come from Westlake United Methodist and Tarrytown United Methodist churches in Austin.

Graham started volunteering in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina struck his home state of Louisiana.

His wife usually sends him with quilts to give families with small children.

Other Westlake churchgoers send the crew with food and drinks so when they are in Victoria, the team can focus on the mission at hand.

That mission means a lot to Marcos Lopez, 53, who said he was discouraged after going through the Federal Emergency Management Agency process.

The home he's lived in his whole life was damaged by Harvey and the $500 FEMA check went to repairing the sinks and some flooring.

In addition to roof repairs, he hopes to repair the shed outside and replace his water-damaged couch.

"I fixed what I could," said Lopez, gripping the crutches he uses to get around.

The disability checks he and his brother receive don't leave much for repairs.

Mourning the death of another brother, Lopez said he appreciates that help came when it did.

"I'm just grateful to be alive and warm," he said. "I have a lot of faith in God. Whatever I need, He'll provide for me."

For the past five months, United Methodist Church members from across the country have been in the Crossroads to work on homes and aid in ongoing disaster relief efforts.

More than 600 volunteers have stayed at First United Methodist Church in downtown Victoria, which has served as a district headquarters after Harvey.

Rio Texas Conference hired disaster case managers in December to reach out and help survivors through the recovery process.

Disaster Recovery Director Nikki Leaverton said they are still coming across people in dire need.

The church found out about a woman who was living in a shed with no electricity.

"That's why case management is so important," Leaverton said. "There's a lot of resources that people don't know about."

Area homeless advocate Kim Pickens was hired as a case manager supervisor. She said the staff is going through the list of survivors who have applied for FEMA and finding that some people have not completed the process or need help with their insurance.

More than 19,000 have applied for FEMA assistance in Victoria County.

"It's not going to be a fast process, but we've made some headway," she said.

Pickens has heard from survivors who haven't asked for help because they think that others need assistance more than they do.

"You have to be a good listener and listen to what they are saying," she said.

Pickens said the FEMA and insurance process can be daunting and that some residents have fallen victim to scams since Harvey.

Rio Texas Conference is serving Victoria and the four surrounding counties.

Vicki McCuistion, disaster recovery asset manager with the conference, said they are hiring and look for those who can be a voice of calm in the chaos.

"Sometimes the clients just want to vent," she said. "They don't have to walk that road by themselves."

Senior Pastor Tim Brewer said the church will likely accommodate volunteer teams for at least the next two years.

But some estimate that disaster recovery could last up to five years.

The first rebuild teams arrived this month to help homeowners with permanent repairs.

Many residents still have tarps and are still trying to figure out how to pay for repairs, he said.

"You think you're OK, and then it rains," he said.


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