Relief team from St. Thomas repairs roofs in NC area damaged by hurricane
As reported in the Bull Run Observer, August 9, 2013 issue.
By GAIL WILLIAMS
Cliff Farrar and Rick McMahon led a team from St. Thomas United Methodist Church for a third mission to Swan Quarter, North Carolina, in early May to help hurricane relief efforts.
Farrar said Swan Quarter, located on the Pamlico Sound, was hit badly by Hurricane Irene in 2011. After a hurricane, extreme coastal (tourist) areas get rebuilt right away but further-in, lower income areas, such as Swan Quarter, remain in need of help. The local Methodist district officials liked the St. Thomas team's roof repair work on the previous mission, so they assigned a roof for the team to repair or replace. Said Farrar, "They have a large number of people who need assistance. The district vets the clients, so we don't have to worry about FEMA or insurance funds, and we like it that way. Our priority is helping people with storm-related damage. With roofing, when you open it up, you get into other issues. Whatever we find, we try to repair."
Farrar said a St. Thomas relief team usually has 10 to 20 members; this one had 12, but it fluctuated because some came or left during the week. Some stayed at a rented-out bed and breakfast, which was their base for meals; others stayed in a nearby motel or at a disaster recovery center team members pay their own way (food, transportation and lodging) while their church and its members donate money for materials. St. Thomas also tries to reimburse the disaster recovery center for materials it supplies for the mission work. The team members have learned to take their own tools so that they'll have what they need, such as compressors and air guns. This time, the team could only work on one roof. "We didn't have as many people between the coming and going, and the pitch was steeper than what we were used to [so the work would be slower]," said Farrar.
Even though they didn't have the number of desired workers, it always seemed to work out. "We plan the work so that everything gets done. Last fall, on a Monday through Friday trip, the last nail went in on Friday night. On this trip, we had an hour's work left. We did it on Saturday morning."
McMahon said St. Thomas has done relief missions since Isabel struck in 2003 and a group traveled to Gloucester Point, Virginia, to help for a weekend. When three or four hurricanes hit Florida in 2005, church members started doing week-long hurricane relief trips. They have a core group of about 20 people who participate in the missions. This was their fourth trip to North Carolina, their third to Swan Quarter. They make sure they have all the proper tools for the job and the environment at each job.
"We continue to go to Swan Quarter because we saw a need and have established a relationship," said McMahon. "We knew they had plenty of need. There are a lot of low-Income or elderly people who can't do it themselves. We're their hands, arms and feet."
Speaking of this single roof repair, McMahon said, "This woman had been waiting over two years to have a crew come. She is a mother of two daughters. The oldest has two babies and is pregnant with a third but she's going to school. It's a very sweet family."
Why do McMahon, Farrar and the others continue to travel to areas such as Swan Quarter that don't offer the comforts of home?
"It's fun to see the smiles on their faces. We get a lot of satisfaction from that: Every time you go, it's a different situation to figure out. These missions have increased my skills. In five or six years, I've gone from doing minor repairs to where now I can probably build a house," said McMahon.
"We enjoy doing it, and it needs to be done," said Farrar. "We know when we go down there, these folks need help. In all three trips, the families were in the house, and we got to know them. That's what keeps some members going back. We establish relationships with some people we've helped in the past."
More information about St. Thomas United Methodist Church is available at 703-368-5161 or
stthomasumc.org. The church is located at 8899 Sudley Road in Manassas.