Pennsylvania Lutherans cook up a storm for hurricane shelter

BobFisher
11/03/2012

Pennsylvania Lutherans cook up a storm for hurricane shelter

Working with a generator, gas stove and one lamp, Bill Rex, pastor of St. Luke Evangelical Lutheran Church in Ferndale, Pa., helps prepare meals for area residents and volunteers.

Photo/Rick Kintzel

Despite being without power since Monday night, St. Luke Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Ferndale, Bucks County, Pa., has been cooking up a storm. Bill Rex, pastor at St. Luke, and a crew of volunteers have been cooking hot dinners each evening for upwards of 225 people at an emergency Red Cross shelter established at the nearby Palisades High School.

"We've been cooking for more than 200 people with two gas stoves, sometimes by flashlight," Bill reports. The congregation’s small kitchen has kept operating with a Red Cross supplied generator to power the ovens but light, and space, are limited. "People at the shelter ask me why we do this," Bill says. "I just say that Jesus tells us to."

ELCA Disaster Response-Eastern Pennsylvania is helping to order food supplies for dinners over this weekend, at a cost of about $1,600, according to Jennifer Ollikainen, director of ministries for Lutheran Congregational Services in Allentown, the local ELCA Disaster Response affiliate.

Bucks County was particularly hard hit by winds from Hurricane Sandy, with more than 200,000 customers without power immediately after the storm. Neighboring Montgomery, Lehigh and Northampton counties were also blasted. Bucks County’s northeastern corner, where Ferndale is located, features rolling hills leading to the palisades above the Delaware River -- and lots of wooded areas. Local residents report that groves of trees are flattened and long series of utility poles are down.

Some residents have been told that power may be out for as long as two or three weeks. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett visited the site Thursday and advised residents to "be patient" because of the danger of working with downed power lines tangled with trees.

One of those patient residents is Pastor Bill, who says that, with the ongoing kitchen duty at the church, he has yet to do a full damage assessment at his home, which was still without power Friday afternoon.

A few dozen people sleep at the high school each night, but more than 900 people each day stop by for a shower, a meal, or to receive water. In this community most residents get their water from wells, which cannot be pumped without power. More than 400 crates of water were shipped to the center by Philabundance, a food bank in Philadelphia, via a connection made by Julia Menzo, ELCA Disaster Response-Eastern Pennsylvania coordinator for Southeastern Pennsylvania.

One of the visitors to the shelter today was Dave Deal, pastor of Evangelical Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in nearby Durham. Dave stopped by for a shower on his way out for a day of checking on elderly and vulnerable members of the congregation.

The Durham congregation will most likely celebrate its 200th anniversary this Sunday without power. Bishop Claire Burkat is scheduled to preach at an All Saints prayer service in the cemetery and then visit the Palisades shelter.

The Red Cross has started to close some of its other southeastern Pennsylvania shelters and route people to Palisades, Jennifer said. It’s uncertain how long St. Luke’s volunteers, aided by members of the Palisades Youth Crew, will keep cooking meals and transporting them to the shelter. But forecasters and disaster planners are already starting to look at another Nor’easter that may affect the region next week.

(Lutheran Congregational Services is an affiliate of Liberty Lutheran Services.)

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Bob Fisher is assistant to the bishop for mission interpretation and communications at the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod of the ELCA.

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