Groups to offer drought relief

Church agencies to provide hay, social services to farmers

`We need to do something'

August 27, 1999|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

The question was never whether to help farm families struggling through drought losses, but how best to do so, as members of several mid-Atlantic church-based relief agencies met yesterday at the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor.

The best way, they concluded, was to pool efforts to provide social services to help families endure the economic stress of the drought, and bring in hay from as far as Washington state and Canada.

"There is full commitment to work together as a faith community," said Stan Noffsinger, director of the Brethren Center's Emergency Response/Service Ministries.

In the past, he said, these agencies often communicated with each other about their work, but usually all operated within their own organizations, which include the ecumenical Church World Service, and denominational groups such as Lutheran Disaster Response and Mennonite Disaster Service.

The services could be in place within a few weeks. In some cases, extant services, such as those provided by Mennonite Disaster Service, will be supplemented by the resources of other agencies. The hay transport could cost $1 million, that agency has estimated, and the social services could cost another $1 million, Noffsinger said.

All the agencies will coordinate efforts to locate money or in-kind services wherever they can.

"Don't ever fail to have the courage [to ask for help]," Noffsinger told the group. He emphasized that such advice also applied to praying for the stamina to work for the families who need help.

"I don't care how small it is, or how large it is -- we need to do something," said Elzie Morris of Grottoes, Va., a former farmer and volunteer with the Church of the Brethren in the Shenandoah district of Virginia and West Virginia.

"The first thing that comes to mind is what we do won't be a drop in the bucket," Morris said. Even so, all the drops accumulate, he and others concurred.

The group included representatives from the Church of the Brethren in regional districts in Maryland, West Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania. Members of Lutheran Disaster Response and the smaller groups within that organization, such as the Nebraska-based Orphan Grain Train, also attended the meeting.

Shirley Norman, a Pennsylvania-based facilitator for the mid-Atlantic district of Church World Service, reminded everyone that farmers are not alone in their struggle with the drought. Landscape workers, farm employees, migrant workers and others who earn their livings from the land are affected.

The group of 30 who assembled yesterday agreed to divide tasks. Mennonite Disaster Service and the Brethren Center will organize the distribution of hay. Church World Service will coordinate fund raising, which will include a request to Farm Aid for a grant from the proceeds of a concert to be held Sept. 12 in Virginia.

Pub Date: 8/27/99

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