As all of us deal with the literal and figurative fallout from the fires raging nearby us, I wanted to share some updates about efforts our people have been making to be involved in responding to the emergent crisis. All of these things are subject to change, of course, on an almost daily basis, and I would ask that if you have some specific information about how our churches might be actively involved, you please contact me or one of the other pastors as quickly as possible. I am monitoring my email almost constantly right now to be sure I am aware of specific needs among our congregations.
Over the past few days, members of our congregations have offered hundreds of dollars in gifts to support relief efforts, not including the gifts that many of our members are giving directly to relief organizations like United Way and the American Red Cross. Our administrative professionals are working to distribute these funds as quickly as possible. If you want to offer a contribution, go to www.opendoorchurches.org/giving/ where you will find the addresses for each of our churches if you prefer to mail a check or a link to the online giving portal of Salem First UMC. Please be sure to mark your donations “Fire Relief.”
You are welcome to purchase supplies and donate them directly to those who are coordinating relief efforts here in Marion County. The best way to be sure your donations are utilized is to take them to the State Fair Grounds on Silverton Road. Donations are being received daily from 8-5. For a list of needed items, visit www.unitedwaymwv.org/wildfire-relief/. You can also make a financial contribution or register to volunteer through links at that page.
I took some donations there myself today (Saturday) and dropped them off. Although it is a little chaotic, there are many volunteers on site to assist you and, for the most part, drivers seem to be patient with the traffic bottleneck. Just a couple of tips for those who want to take donations …. First, the instructions on the United Way website indicate that the dropoff location is on the north side of Silverton Road (directly across from the fairgrounds), but I was directed to enter the fairgrounds instead. Second, you’ll want to be prepared to be patient, since MANY people are trying to donate.
If you want to volunteer your time to help with hosting the evacuees, you can sign up to do so through the United Way. I’ve spent quite a bit of time looking at different platforms and found that some of them are either non-functional or out of date. You can probably imagine how difficult it is to try to manage volunteers and respond to the needs of evacuees at the same time! My suggestion is to use the link on the United Way website. Go to www.unitedwaymwv.org/wildfire-relief/ and look for the button that says “Volunteer—click here,” which will take you to a form to enter your information.
At this point, none of our churches are hosting evacuees. Morningside has offered space for a limited number of employees of the Department of Corrections to store RVs on their campus. I have been trying diligently to find out if there is a need for additional space, but have so far been unable to get that information. IF YOU HAVE DIRECT CONTACTS WITH ANY STAFF WITH THE UNITED WAY OR RED CROSS, PLEASE CONTACT ME ASAP!
I am aware of some of our church members who are housing family and friends who have lost homes or have had to evacuate. Others are hosting pets or providing space for vehicles, etc. As someone who’s observing from the outside of the efforts for the most part, it seems to me as if a huge number of the evacuees are being housed this way. If you are hosting someone and could use some help, please let us know! If you or a family member has been displaced, please let us know so we can help. We have financial resources and many people who would love to help. You may email or call me if you need some assistance—my contact information is below.
Many of us are experiencing trauma and grief in this time of severe loss. I have heard from some of you about friends, family, and others you have known who have lost homes or are otherwise directly impacted by the wildfires in our area and beyond. Furthermore, we know that the landscape of this beautiful land is being scarred in ways that we will be able to see for many years to come and the reminders of the human cost will be, as well. It is difficult to comprehend the scale of the destruction. All of this during a time when our anxieties about the present and the future have been running high for several months due to the Pandemic.
Your pastors are here for you. Your churches are here for you. Please do not hesitate to reach out if you find yourself in need of prayer or encouragement. I’ll be honest: It is difficult for your pastors to know what your needs are when we are not able to gather with you in our sacred spaces. But we yearn so much to hear from you and to remind you that you need not walk this road alone. You do not walk this road alone, even when it feels as if you do. Please contact me or one of the other Open Door Churches pastors, reach out to a trusted friend from one of our churches, or contact the administrative staff of one of our congregations for support.
A FINAL THOUGHT…
A day or two ago, one of our church members shared the following thought with me via social media: “I wish we could have welcomed you during less interesting times.” I want to share my reply with all of you, because I mean it from the deepest part of my heart: “ … me too. But I’m glad I can be here to help you in such interesting times.”
If you would like to contact me or talk together on the phone, please send me an email so we can set up a time to visit.
Grace, peace, and comfort,
Pastor John Fleming