Houston congregations rally around members, neighbors displaced by Harvey

Houston congregations rally around members, neighbors displaced by Harvey

Donations to UUA-UUSC relief fund are approaching $250,000.

Elaine McArdle
Flood damaged debris from homes lines the street in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey on Thursday, September 7, 2017, in Houston

Flood damaged debris from homes lines the street in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey on Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017, in Houston. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

AP Photo/Matt Rourke


Unitarian Universalists continue to donate funds to help people and communities affected by two major hurricanes, as cleanup begins in Florida after Hurricane Irma, which struck on September 10, and continues in Texas in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, which hit August 25.

As of September 14, the Hurricane Harvey Recovery Fund set up by the Unitarian Universalist Association and the UU Service Committee on August 29 had raised $237,058 from 2,029 donors, including seven congregations. Other congregational gifts are still being processed, according to the UUA’s Stewardship and Development staff. Half of the funds raised will go to at-risk populations served by grassroots partners of the UUSC, including those who work with undocumented immigrants. The other half will support UU congregations and members of those congregations most affected by the storm. During the month of September, 20 percent of all sales from the Beacon Press website will go to the UUA-UUSC fund.

The UUA has also set up a Hurricane Irma Recovery Fund to assist congregations in repairing any damage and to respond to the needs of members and their larger communities as they recover from the most powerful Atlantic hurricane ever recorded. (UU World is reporting separately on the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.)

In Texas, congregational leaders are still estimating the cost of repairs to congregational properties. And they are still finding out how many UUs were significantly affected by Hurricane Harvey and subsequent flooding.

In Houston, Emerson UU Church sustained damage to a new roof, “but it seems pretty inconsequential in light of everything else,” said the Rev. Becky Edmiston-Lange. About a third of the congregation’s approximately 400 members had to evacuate from their homes due to flooding. Among them is a family who relocated to Houston after losing their home and everything in it during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 in New Orleans. “They’ll probably be able to redeem their home, but it’s reawakening a lot of trauma,” said Edmiston-Lange. She added that for members without a lot of resources, the UUA/UUSC Harvey Relief Fund will be a lifeline.

“Those who have not been affected are working very, very hard to help those who are,” she said. “It’s really, really impressive how folks have rallied around.” The congregation will also be reaching out to vulnerable communities affected by the hurricane and flooding, she said.

Bay Area UU Church, about 25 miles southeast of Houston, is in a neighborhood where many homes sustained serious damage from flooding. But the church itself is fine besides a small roof leak, said the Rev. Bruce Beisner. At least seventeen families in the congregation, which has about 220 members, experienced flood damage in their homes, he said. The congregation has been collecting donations for area shelters, and raised $8,400 for the Harvey Relief Fund during a worship service on September 3, he said.

First Unitarian Universalist Church of Houston, which has three campuses throughout the city and is developing a fourth, has set up a hurricane relief fund to repair storm damage at its Museum District campus. “More importantly,” said the Rev. Dr. Daniel O’Connell, senior minister, the fund will “help give immediate and direct aid to those in need.” The church is also working to match volunteers with people who need help with hurricane recovery.

The church’s campuses in the Copperfield and Stafford neighborhoods, along with its future Richmond campus property, did not experience significant damage, he said. However, the Museum District campus sustained significant water damage through roof leaks. It appears that the second-floor roof over the library will have to be replaced at a cost of about $10,000, O’Connell said, and carpet on the third floor also needs to be replaced. Although the building was insured it appears the insurance policy will not cover all the damage, he said.

During worship September 3, the congregation raised $11,000 for its recovery fund. O’Connell said he expects to raise another $10,000 to $15,000 for three organizations with which it works: the Emergency Aid Coalition; EAC’s partner organization, the Houston Food Bank; and Montrose Grace Place, which offers a safe environment for vulnerable homeless youth of all sexualities and genders. The congregation’s shared offering partner for an upcoming series of worship services on compassion is Rebuilding Together Houston, which helps repair homes at no cost for low-income elderly homeowners. “We have a bunch of folks who regularly volunteer for their projects,” said O’Connell, and the organization’s services “will be more in demand than ever.”