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Churches unite to help storm victims

A coalition of Pinellas County churches formed an interfaith relief effort Tuesday to help tornado victims in the Tampa Bay area.

Meanwhile, the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg announced that it will send teams to disaster-stricken neighborhoods to help with counseling, repairs, food and clothing distribution, and other needs.

A group called Mid-Pinellas County Interfaith Disaster Response was formed Tuesday by representatives of churches from Indian Rocks Beach, Largo, Pinellas Park and St. Petersburg, said the Rev. William Nix, disaster response consultant for Church World Service.

The group will provide volunteer labor, building materials, pastoral counseling, individual cash grants "if necessary," and food through food banks operated in churches, he said.

In addition, it will provide mental health counseling in cooperation with the American Red Cross and mental health agencies, said the Rev. Harold M. Brockus, pastor of Good Samaritan, who initiated the interfaith effort.

Noting that tornadoes struck areas outside Pinellas County, Nix said organizers "do not intend to stop at county lines."

Repair and cleanup help will come from groups that include the Christian Reform World Relief Committee, Mennonite Disaster Services and Church of the Brethren Disaster Services, Nix said. The groups would remove debris and "do repairs to structures under permits from the county or city as appropriate," he said.

Financing comes from individuals, local congregations, national denominational offices and Church World Service, which is an arm of the New York-based National Council of Churches, Nix said.

Church World Service will provide only organizational and support help and has "no decision role" in the local relief effort, Nix said. But the group is conducting a national appeal to church denominations for money, he said. More than $10,000 has been granted from national church offices, he said. Nix could not provide an exact amount.

Among the denominations represented in the interfaith effort are Presbyterian, United Methodist, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Christian Reformed, Roman Catholic, Southern Baptist and United Church of Christ, Nix said.

Meanwhile, Catholic Charities, an arm of the five-county Diocese of St. Petersburg, announced it will dispatch about 10 two-person teams to work in devastated neighborhoods in the bay area.

Catholic Charities will seek to help "victims of the tornado that have not received services, or need additional services," said Pat Farmer, director of the division's Office of Social Justice and Peace.

The initiative will provide food and food vouchers, clothing, case management for elderly residents, damage assessment help, minor repairs and cash grants, Farmer said. In addition, Catholic Charities will provide psychological counseling from its own licensed clinical social workers, he said.

The diocese has allocated about $60,000 for the relief effort, Farmer said. "We have been allocated monies for a three-month period. We may not have to use all that money or keep the program going for three months. It's going to depend on what the assessment of the need is."

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