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Helping Those Affected by the Tornadoes

Read below for some ways in which we can be of assistance to those affected by the recent tornadoes in Southern Indiana ...

Dear Friends,

In some ways, it seems like forever since Friday night's tornadoes; time moves in a different way at times like this.  It's been hard for me to keep track of the days as they have come and gone. It's hard, too, to take in the many scenes and stories from that night.  Much of the national media's coverage has focused on Henryville. Other places of devastation are often known only to those more local.  The other day I shared some images from Nabb and Marysville and Chelsea. I'd like to take some time tonight and lift up our brothers and sisters in Washington County.

Today the members of the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance national response team visitid Pekin. Their first stop was a local diner. Those who had gathered there for breakfast and coffee welcomed the visitors, and were pleased that the Presbyterians had stopped by.  Elder Don Hampton and the Rev. Greg Smith got some first hand accounts of that night.  In a meeting with Jean and Mike Beaver and me tonight, Greg spoke about the lumber yard and the hardware company that were destroyed, and shared his concern for what the loss of local businesses can do to a community.  The picture below was graciously provided to us by the Salem Leader:

The Rev Beth Walden-Fisher and members of the Salem Presbyterian Church shared with me some statistics about the storm damage in Washington County:
  • 45 homes were destroyed, 24 mobile homes and 7 businesses were total losses. 
  • 101 houses damages and 90 garages, barns, or other buildings were completely destroyed.
  • Two churches were completely demolished and both cemeteries  were damaged with most headstones destroyed or damaged.
  • Five people were killed in the Pekin area (all in one family) about 9 others were treated for other related injuries.
  • Dozens of cattle and numerous horses were either killed outright or had to be put down
Here's a few more images from the Leader:


Devastation, of course, does not have the last word. Just as soon as the storm passed, people began the task of cleaning up and patching up. Washington County folks band together and work together.

Locally owned restaurants are serving food to tornado victims and volunteers for free.  People from our church in Salem are bringing food to these sites. Presbyterians are also out in the community helping whoever they can, working alongside neighbors, volunteering their time and talent to local community efforts.  The Salem Church will be receiving a special donation this coming Sunday.

For those of us who live outside of the affected areas, it's hard to know how to help. We've received phone calls and emails from countless churches around the country.  The PDA national call center has also been fielding offers to help.  At the moment, though, relief agencies are turning away volunteers. Some of the areas are still unsafe. Others have too many volunteers working there already.  Still others have not yet assessed the need to the point that they are able to make good use of additional volunteers.  Mike and Jean Beaver will be working with Presbyterian pastors in the damaged areas to help assess what we might be able to do to help in the immediate future.

But we are aware that there will be many long-term needs as well. This is a specialty of PDA. Long after other agencies have left the scene, PDA helps presbyteries continue to make a difference.  Many of you know all about this kind of work, such as the long-term recovery efforts in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.  So there will be work to do.

In the immediate future, though, here's a few suggestions:
  1. Assmble Gift-of-the-Heart Kits, especially school kits and hygiene kits. These are given out in the first few hours and days after a disaster, and need to be replenished. This is an excellent project for church school classes and youth groups.  Instructions for how to make these kits and where to ship them can be found at
  2. Make a monetary contribution to PDA. The needs are great, and will be for some time. Gifts can be made to the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, for general use nationally at
  3. Make a monetary contribution to the Presbytery of Ohio Valley for dedicated use in southern Indiana. We have set up a special fund for Tornado Relief. All checks need to be clearly labeled (either in the memo line or in accompanying documentation) for Tornado Relief and mailed to: Presbytery of Ohio Valley, P.O. Box 186, Indianapolis, IN 46206-1864.  
We'll be offering more ideas in the days and weeks to come.  So please stay tuned.  And please know how much we appreciate the outpouring of love and concern. The day before yesterday, a pastor in New York State wrote to tell me that her congregation would be making a special emphasis for the One Great Hour of Sharing Offering (part of which supports PDA). "Is there anything else we can do to help?" she asked.  I remember wising that I could give her a specific answer, and I sensed in her such compassion. But at the time, we as a presbytery just were not ready to bring work crews in, and we knew that other agnecies are having to turn away volunteers. Here was my reply to her:

Dear Tammy,

Thank you so much for your expressions of love and concern. As you can imagine, we are coping with quite a bit - but the good news is that we are coping!
We are still in the very early stages of our relief efforts, and still working to assess our needs. I have forwarded your email to our newly-appointed disaster relief coordinators.  I cannot promise when they might be back in touch, as we have received such an outpouring of offers to help.  But please know that simply your offer of assiatnce sustains and nourishes us for this most difficult and important work. 
And thanks for letting me know that you will be making a special appeal for the OGOS offering.  It will go to good use, I am sure!

Even though we're not sure what to do with every offer of assistance, I have decided to treat each one as a love letter, to cherish each one and hold it in my heart, and to be reminded of what I have come to believe with all my heart - that in life and in death, and in all the circumstances of life, we belong to God. And we belong to one another. Thanks be to God or these blessed connections. 

Peace and all good,
The Rev'd. Susan C. McGhee
Executive Presbyter
The Presbytery of Ohio Valley


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