Volunteers join local churches in sustained response to west Baltimore flooding - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Volunteers join local churches in sustained response to west Baltimore flooding

Volunteers pray with a homeowner in the Beechfield neighborhood of west Baltimore. The area was hit by three flash floods in 2018. (Anthony C. Hayes)

In a season where it seems as if the rainfall totals are approaching Biblical proportions, it may be easy to miss the toll the steady stream of flooding has exacted on our neighbors and friends. Beechfield, Irvington, and Westgate – three abutting neighborhoods in west Baltimore – have experienced three flash-floods, since the first round of flooding made national news on May 29. But, unlike nearby Ellicott City – where government aid continues to flow – the residents of Beechfield, Irvington and Westgate have largely been left to fend for themselves.

Centered squarely in the affected neighborhoods of west Baltimore is Stillmeadow Community Fellowship. A congregation associated with the Evangelical Free Church of America, Stillmeadow has denominational ties with ReachGlobal – an organization which has brought thousands of volunteers to help storm-ravaged areas like New Orleans. So, it is no surprise that Stillmeadow Fellowship was quick to partner with two other area congregations – Miracle City Church on South Rock Glen Rd., and Broken Wall Project on North Bend Rd. – in stepping forward with the ReachGlobal model to help those who were victimized by this summer’s floods.

Repair work continues along Frederick Ave. in west Baltimore. The Beechfield community was especially hit hard by the May 27th flooding. SBA disaster loans are available to help homeowners and renters in this stricken community. (Anthony C. Hayes)

Repair work continues along Frederick Ave. in west Baltimore. The Beechfield community was especially hit hard by the recent flooding. (Anthony C. Hayes)

The result is an ongoing effort which has spurred construction pros and laymen alike to aid what many deem an underserved community.

“This area has been devastated, not only by the initial flood but also by the two subsequent floods that hit the area just a few weeks later,” said Pastor Michael S. Martin of Stillmeadow Fellowship. “Once the waters subsided, we embarked on a mission to provide a sustained response. The city was here for the first 36-48 hours, but we need that sustained response, so that people can get whole with recovery, stability and things of that nature. That’s what we’re hoping for with this partnership.”

Martin said the number of households impacted by the flooding in the neighborhoods surrounding Stillmeadow is somewhere between 150 – 180.

“The numbers I am hearing keep fluctuating, because some people had good insurance, while others have undertaken their own repairs. But whatever the number is, it’s too much. Even in homes which seemed to sustain minimal damage, we are now getting calls because mold is appearing.”

Martin said the three local congregations are not only helping area residents with cleanup and rebuilding but have also partnered with the SBA and Red Cross to offer victims financial and emotional care.

“People are traumatized. The first flood back in May was bad enough, but being hit again – not once but twice in July – has left many people feeling anxious. They see the clouds darken and hear the rain start to fall, and they think, ‘Oh no, not again!’

“I understand how the news coverage of the flooding could center on Ellicott City, because what happened out there is certainly a heartache. But Ellicott City’s damage was mostly commercial, in that it hit the business district, where here in west Baltimore, it is mostly residential. So, if you’re talking in terms about the number of people who were directly affected, what happened here is an absolute disaster. I spoke with one of the first responders and he told me that he has lived in this area all of his life, but he never imagined he would ever have to use a boat to rescue people along Frederick Ave.

“The city has been good with their emergency response, but they are struggling with recovery and restoration. That’s the reason the churches have jumped in to help, but that’s not something we are really trained to do. We are here to minister to people, but now we are doing it in an entirely different way.

Baltimore businessman Curtis briefs the volunteers on the jobs which have been scheduled for the day. The west Baltimore neighborhoods of Beechfield, Irvington and Westgate have been hit with three flash floods in 2018. (Anthony C. Hayes)

Businessman Fred Curtis briefs volunteers on the jobs which have been scheduled for the day. (Anthony C. Hayes)

“The upside of this tragedy is people are finding out they are not alone. Neighbors who might otherwise never speak with each other have been reaching out to help. This has been especially true of those checking in with the elderly.”

Fred Curtis, a local businessman, has been serving the relief effort in the capacity of job site coordinator. It is Curtis who briefs the volunteers on the jobs which have been scheduled for the day – offering a knowing eye, while describing potential problems the earnest work crews might encounter.

“We’ve had volunteers here since the Saturday after the first flood happened,” said Curtis.  “We started with a listening campaign, going out into the community, just to hear how residents were impacted by the flood. From the data we gathered, we have identified homes which need to have work done.

“We have tried to prioritize our efforts by sending crews first into the homes of seniors and disabled individuals who have moldy basements. We’ve had hundreds of volunteers step forward, so we plan to work every Saturday til at least Thanksgiving. Today, we have about 60 people on hand, and that number has seemed to be consistent.”

Curtis happily noted that some volunteers have traveled hundreds of miles to lend a hand. He said he is also encouraged by the generosity of so many tradesmen.

“The good thing about this effort is we are not only getting unskilled volunteers but also construction contractors who specialize in mold remediation, drywall installation, plumbing, etc., to lead the volunteer teams.”

Flood-damaged contents of a home in west Baltimore. The neighborhoods of Beechfield, Irvington, and Westgate have been hit with three flash floods in 2018. (Anthony C. Hayes)

Flood-damaged contents of a home in west Baltimore. (Anthony C. Hayes)

A few blocks south of Stillmeadow, one team side-stepped debris and went to work on a modest two-story Beechfield home. Several men set up ladders to clean out the gutters, while another man prepared to mow the lawn. The women in the group grabbed brooms, rakes and pails, as most of the demolition had already occurred. All agreed there was a lot to be done, but the crew paused with the thankful residents for a moment of prayer.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said homeowner Phillip Spears. “Not once, but thrice. The street down here was like a river, and our basement got flooded. We lost nearly everything we had down there, and here it’s sitting on our lawn.

“You can’t live with that kind of damage in a house. The mold isn’t healthy for you. But you also can’t live with stuff piled up on your lawn. We’ve called the city and asked for help getting the stuff hauled away, but they haven’t responded. We saw the fire department rescue people from an MTA bus, but we haven’t seen anyone from the city since. Mrs. Pugh said she wanted to be the mayor, so we voted for her. But if you want to be the mayor, then act like one.”

Spears’ frustration with the city was palpable, but so was his gratitude, as he watched volunteers of all ages pitching in to help.

Mowing the lawn for an elderly Beechfield resident, volunteer Carlos traveled all the way from Lancaster, PA. to help victims of the west Baltimore flooding. (Anthony C. Hayes)

“One of the great things about helping out is that, no matter your skill level, there is something that you can do,” explained Pastor Ron Willoughby of Broken Wall Project. “Some of our volunteers will be tearing out damaged drywall, while others will be cleaning out flooded basements. Some of the professionals will be installing gutters and water heaters. The list of jobs we have is pretty substantial.

“The night of the first flood, Frederick Ave. became a raging river. There were folks in the 5400 block who had 7-8 feet of water in their basements. Down here in the Beechfield area, there was 6-8 feet of water in the street. The water was busting in doors and windows were crashing in.

“There was a grandson, who said to his grandfather, ‘Look at the aquarium!’ The grandfather turned to see the water against the basement window just as it began to pour inside. If you ask him, that man will tell you that his grandson saved his life.

“I don’t think people realize the peril the people in this community faced. They don’t have the financial means to recover from this one time, let alone three times. Some people have said to me, ‘This is kind of a small thing, so it’s not that big of a deal.’ But you know what? For the 150 or more families that were impacted by those floods, this is a big deal.”

It’s also the real deal for Willoughby and his fellow “fishermen.”

“One of the things that I most appreciate about the opportunity to serve this community is how I, as a Southern Baptist minister, have been able to partner with EFCA Pastor Michael Martin of Stillmeadow Fellowship and Seventh-Day Adventist Pastor David Franklin of Miracle City Church. We see this community as our parish. This is not a competition for us – this is an opportunity to demonstrate God’s love in a practical way. To be present for the marginalized – for those who need a voice. For those who need someone to stand on their behalf.”

Those wishing to volunteer time, material or financial aid to help the flood victims of west Baltimore are urged to contact Broken Wall Project, Miracle City Church or Stillmeadow Community Fellowship.

 


About the author

Anthony C. Hayes

Anthony C. Hayes is an actor, author, raconteur, rapscallion and bon vivant. A former reporter at the Washington Herald, and Voice of Baltimore, Tony's poetry, photography, humor, and prose have also been featured in Smile, Hon, You're in Baltimore!, SmartCEO, Magic Octopus Magazine, Destination Maryland, Los Angeles Post-Examiner, Alvarez Fiction, and Tales of Blood and Roses. Contact the author.
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