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The 1918 flu pandemic, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the Midwestern floods last month that saturated downstate Illinois, Iowa and its surrounding areas are all disasters that affected thousands. Relief is rushed to residents by local, state and government

The 1918 flu pandemic, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the Midwestern floods last month that saturated downstate Illinois, Iowa and its surrounding areas are all disasters that affected thousands.

Relief is rushed to residents by local, state and government agencies, but after the dust settles from the crisis, help is still needed.

That’s where the church usually comes in, said Dr. Damon T. Arnold, the director of the Illinois Dept. of Public Health.

“When disaster strikes, most ask the question, ‘why?’ That’s very scientific. Hardly do I hear anyone question ‘how’ it happened, said Arnold.

“People historically turn to faithbased organizations in time of need. We felt a need to have a link with those organizations so we could have an expanded reach in getting our message across. We need as many people as possible to be prepared when disaster strikes,” Arnold said at a recent faith-based summit in Oak Brook.

The summit was hosted by the state’s health department and Dr. Leon Dingle Jr., commissioner of the Illinois Medical District and project coordinator of the Broadcast Ministers’ Alliance.

Churches are the anchor in the community that satisfies the needs of the people –– physically, mentally and spiritually, Arnold said about IDPH’s initiative to implement a comprehensive plan with African American and Hispanic churches to deal with disasters.

“Great lessons can be learned from Hurricane Katrina,” he said.

IDPH launched the initiative last year and trained members at 600 churches––300 Black and 300 Hispanic––statewide on how to deal with a pandemic flu outbreak and weather disasters, especially those affected by the incidents. Several training sessions and townhall meetings were held since July 2007.

“When disaster strikes, you lose more than your house, your money and your possessions. You also lose your hope, your mind, your peace,” said Rev. Therman Evans, MD, founder and CEO of Whole Life Associates, Inc., and one of the summit’s speakers.

The New Jersey-based pastor of Morning Star Community Christian Center, Inc., said the strongest piece of human condition is the spirit. The church helps to maintain that when a crisis occurs.

“You can always get another house and things to put in it, but you can’t let hope slip away from you,” Evans said.

Evans saw how difficult it was for his congregation to deal with the September 11 tragedy, and he saw church members come out in droves to help those in need. They provided services that government agencies could not: spiritual.

“Faith-based organizations have always been there no matter what was going on, that’s why people turn to the church. That will not stop,” he said. “Now it’s time for churches to get more involved in helping prepare their congregations for disasters.”

After many evacuees from Hurricane Katrina set up residence in New Jersey, Evans’ church started a Disaster Relief Ministry that conducts workshops, gives presentations and has pamphlets on hand for the church’s community to help prepare them for a disaster.

“We show them how to get their home ready, what to have on hand in case they need to get away. We make sure they have the numbers to city services. We want to just make sure that people are ready,” Evans said.

John Cook, the director for the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security’s Center for Faith-based and Community Initiatives, applauded Evans’ church and other clergy leaders for getting on board with the initiative.

“We need houses of worship to prepare their congregation on how to handle a crisis or disaster. Sometimes the church will reach you before any other help arrives,” Cook said.

Cook said faith-based organizations are central in local relief efforts, so it’s imperative that the Department of Homeland Security and other governmental agencies maintain good coordination with each other.

A nurse from the Chicago chapter of the National Black Nurses Association concurred.

“Being prepared for a disaster is as important as brushing your teeth. It’s very imperative,” said Charlean Curtis of NBNA.

Curtis said people expect to get the necessary services on the medical side, but they tend to trust help more when it comes from the church.

But it’s not just up to the churches to provide emergency preparedness. Everyday “Joes” need to get with it too, she said.

“We just need for everybody to get on board and get back to the way that it used to be when everyone helped out and stayed involved,” Curtis said.

Arnold said more town hall meetings are scheduled and more resource guides will be prepared for faith-based organizations.

For more information, visit http://www.idph.state.il.us.

Photo by Worsom Robinson/Chicago Defender

Copyright 2008 Chicago Defender. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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