December 11, 2017
MDS ramps up long term hurricane response
Lititz, Pa. – As cleanup work after hurricanes in Texas and Florida comes to an end and continues in Puerto Rico, Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) is engaging three persons for the coordination of long-term efforts in the three areas.
Since mid-September, MDS volunteers have been assisting in cleanup work after Hurricane Harvey in Texas, Irma in Florida and Maria in Puerto Rico. To date more than 230 MDS volunteers, including leadership volunteers, have been assigned to these regions for cleanup.
Now, MDS is beginning its long-term work bringing hope to communities ravaged by the three Category 4 hurricanes which struck during 44 days from late August to mid-October. The unprecedented storms caused billions of dollars in damage to homes and communities.
Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria were only three of ten consecutive hurricanes that emerged from the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico during the 2017 hurricane season which ended November 30.
Elizabeth Soto, of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, has been invited be the administrator of the MDS work in Puerto Rico assisting local Mennonite churches and MDS in planning and implementing the final cleanup tasks and then implementing repair and rebuilding of homes and churches.
Tom Smucker, of Sterling, Ohio, has begun overseeing four MDS home building projects in Texas, in the areas of Baytown, La Grange, Victoria County and an area referred to as the Coastal Bend, which includes Rockport and Aransas Pass.
Phil Helmuth, of Harrisonburg, Virginia, began working with MDS shortly after Hurricane Irma in Florida coordinating the clean-up efforts and now will implement the long-term home repair and rebuilding project in the Fort Myers and Naples regions.
Soto, who was born in Puerto Rico and still has family and deep church connections to the island will begin her work in January 2018. She is also a professor at Lancaster Theological Seminary.
Smucker, who is a former MDS executive director (1997 – 2004) is already working with various community groups in Texas where MDS will repair and rebuild homes. Much of the MDS work will take place in lower income communities south of Houston. These communities took the brunt of Hurricane Harvey as it came ashore.
Helmuth, who has been working in development and church relations with Eastern Mennonite University, engaged with MDS making phone calls and visiting with homeowners in Florida shortly after Hurricane Irma. With a regular flow of volunteers the teams were able to cleanup several hundred homes in the Fort Myers area. Now they will focus on long term efforts in the Naples area.
“We have three excellent coordinators in place to begin the core of MDS work, the long-term projects that bring hope to communities,” Kevin King, MDS executive director said. “This is where MDS really has the rubber hit the road, where MDS volunteers and disaster survivors come together and faith is expressed in love by a hands-on practical manner.”
Mark Beach, MDS Communications Manager