Bishop Michael Burk and Pastor Paul Ostrem recently visited Marshalltown to assess the damage from the tornado that struck the community on July 19. The impact is extensive, with significant damage to buildings and the businesses they housed  in the downtown area, a direct hit to the Lennox plant (a major employer in the community), and the devastation of neighborhoods housing much of the immigrant community that has settled in Marshalltown as well as community members with limited financial resources. Over 500 homes were damaged. Many are no longer habitable because of the structural damage. The visit included meetings with Police Chief, Mike Tupper (a member of Elim Lutheran Church), the  director of the Chamber of Commerce, the executive director of Mid-Iowa Community Action (MICA), a representative from the United Way, other volunteers, as well as with Pastor Gregg Davison (Trinity Lutheran Church) and Pastor Mike Hershberger (Our Savior Lutheran Church).

Some NGOs like the Red Cross and Samaritan’s Purse were present almost immediately to assist with initial response and clean up. They will soon be leaving the community. MICA has taken the lead in assisting those directly impacted by the storm in case management and accessing what resources might be available as a result of the governor’s state disaster declaration. In partnership with Lutheran Services in Iowa, which is Iowa’s Lutheran Disaster Response affiliate, and the other Iowa ELCA synods, we were able to provide an initial grant to MICA to aid the most vulnerable, for whom the state monies are either unavailable or insufficient to address their most immediate needs. 

More help is needed…and will be for months, even years to come. Initially, physical labor was needed for clean up. At present, volunteer needs are less clear. In some cases, sending people to the community will provide more burden than benefit. We are working with local leaders to determine when, and for what more volunteers will be needed, even as we work to determine what our partners in other faith traditions are doing so that we complement rather than duplicate efforts.

This storm has lasting implications for the entire Marshalltown community and their economic base. A “Rebuild Marshalltown” Foundation has been established. What is needed most from people interested in helping through the ELCA are funds that can be directed to assist the most vulnerable in the community. You can give online to tornado relief. Or you can send a check to the Southeastern Iowa Synod Center for Ministry. When sending a gift, please mark it for “Tornado Relief.”

We will continue to work closely with Lutheran Disaster Response, LSI, and especially with local leaders to identify other ways to support and help in the response. All of us can pray for the community and for those who suffer from other disasters, including the people in Pella and Bondurant, for whom the storms of 2018 have had significant, but different impact. With regard to all of this, watch for future updates here.

Thank you for your ongoing support of this synod’s ministry even as you consider gifts to address these pressing needs. We really are #inthisTogether


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