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Hurricane fund gives $750K to churches, community groups

Baton Rouge church hires 'minister to the community,' will hire volunteer coordinator for ongoing relief work.
By Donald E. Skinner

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Three and a half months after Hurricane Katrina, more than $750,000 has been committed to help social service and Unitarian Universalist groups on the Gulf Coast. The grants are funded by donations to the Unitarian Universalist Association-UU Service Committee Gulf Coast Relief Fund, which has raised $3.5 million.

The Rev. Meg Riley, director of advocacy and witness for the UUA and chair of the panel overseeing disbursement of the relief funds, said the largest grant approved to date is $170,000 to First Unitarian Church in New Orleans, to clean out its building. Floodwaters that remained for weeks destroyed the interior of the first floor of the church. The congregation expects to return to the building, but will make a final assessment when the building has been professionally cleaned of flood damage.

The panel has also authorized $45,000 for Community Church Unitarian Universalist in New Orleans, whose building was destroyed, to rent office and meeting space for six months and for administrative needs.

A grant of $99,000 has been made to First Unitarian Universalist Church of Baton Rouge to hire two one-year staff members. One is a “minister to the community”—the Rev. Marilee Baccich, who grew up in New Orleans and is director of the Center for Spiritual Development at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley, Calif. The Baton Rouge church also plans to hire a coordinator of volunteers to help it minister to the many displaced New Orleanians in Baton Rouge and to support a responsible rebuilding of New Orleans. Baccich starts February 1.

Previously announced grants include $118,000 for five community groups, the Vietnamese Initiative in Economic Training (to help the Vietnamese community reestablish itself); Working InterFaith Network and All Congregations Together (to support displaced families in the public debate over the future of the Gulf Coast); East Biloxi, Miss., Relief and Coordination Center (to help residents access aid); and Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance (to protect immigrant workers from evictions, threats of deportation, and unfair labor practices).

Late last year the panel gave $25,000 to each of the three New Orleans congregations—First UU, Community, and North Shore Unitarian Universalist Society—and to Spindletop Unitarian Church in Beaumont, Texas. Another $25,000 grant was given to assist affected Mississippi congregations. The panel also agreed to pay salaries for all professional staff in the three New Orleans congregations for a year, an amount totaling approximately $175,000. Four grants of $10,000 each were given to the three New Orleans congregations and Spindletop for ministerial aid.

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