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A couple of men pull carpets down the stairs of a church.A couple of men pull carpets down the stairs of a church.

Mennonite Disaster Service Lancaster Unit volunteers from the Ephrata, PA area at New Beginnings Fellowship in Downingtown, PA.

When Hurricane Ida caused the Brandywine River to overflow its banks in Downingtown, Pennsylvania, a small town of about 8,000 on the outskirts of Philadelphia, it flooded many homes and businesses—and the New Beginnings Fellowship Church.

That’s where MDS volunteers from the Ephrata area, about a 45-minute drive away, could be found in early September, pulling ruined carpeting and warped drywall from the old stone church that dates back to 1905.

The church was just one of many buildings damaged when up to a 12-foot wall of water from the river and rain runoff spilled into homes, the police station and government buildings. All through town, residents were dragging piles of soggy belongings onto the sidewalk to be hauled away.

The small congregation that meets in the church building has already seen two rounds of flooding, but Ida’s remnants brought the worst by far.

Deacon Daniel London, one of the church’s founders, was not sure when the church will be able to reconvene in the sanctuary.

“Between the flooding and COVID, we are back on Zoom now,” he said. “The building has lost two heating systems due to flooding in the past few years.”

Next door, Downingtown resident Michele Hundley, who has lived in her house for 18 years, has had enough.

“I’m going to have to move,” said Hundley, also a member of New Beginnings Fellowship. “The creek has always come up close to the house but this time I lost everything in my basement.”

But she was still unsure about relocating. “I love my house,” she said. “I love where I live.”

As London and Hundley talked, volunteers filled a large dumpster with soggy debris. Led by MDS board member Frank Hoover, they worked so quickly that Hoover had to arrange for a second dumpster sooner than he thought.

“In this church, if this wet drywall isn’t removed quickly, mold will start growing up the walls,” said Hoover, who found out from a retired pastor who had volunteered with MDS years ago that the flooded church needed some help.

“That’s what it’s all about,” said Hoover, adding since larger MDS projects are paused during COVID, more local, smaller projects have been popping up for MDS volunteers.

One volunteer, Ray Zimmermann, has been serving with MDS since Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey in 2012. “It’s what we were taught to do as Christians: help each other,” he said.

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