The journey towards wholeness includes a case manager

Story by Laura Bray

You’ve read about work teams, about Volunteer Villages, about rebuilding lives that Hurricane Harvey rent asunder last August. How do we know who needs our help? Where do we send the hands and feet of Christ? While each of the thousands of cases is unique, the process itself follows an established pattern. To demonstrate how survivors move through the recovery and case management process, meet “Barbara,” a fictional (but typical) survivor of Harvey, from anywhere in the Rio Texas Conference.

Barbara heard about our local case management office from a friend whose home also suffered extensive damage. A single mother with two school-aged kids, Barbara works full-time and in the aftermath of the storm, struggles to get by. She wanted to handle the home repairs herself, but she is just too overwhelmed and doesn’t know where or how to start. Barbara doesn’t normally ask for much outside assistance, but she finally realizes that if resources are out there and available, she owes it to her kids to check into it. So she leaves a voicemail at the case management office.

That voicemail generates an email to a disaster case management supervisor, who assigns the case to “Sue” (a fictional but typical case manager). Sue contacts Barbara to set up an intake interview. Sue wants to know where Barbara feels most comfortable for a meeting. “We could meet here in the office, at your home, or we could use the conference room at the Aransas Pass airport. Or maybe the Whataburger on Main Street is more convenient. Whatever works for you.” They set a time and date at the airport.

On the day of the meeting, Sue immediately notices how haggard and tired Barbara looks. After introductions and getting some basic information like address, phone number, and names and ages of family members, Sue gently asks Barbara to tell her story of how Hurricane Harvey upended her life.

Sue learns that the storm damaged the roof, and Barbara hasn’t found anyone to fix it. Many of the family’s personal belongings were ruined either by the days-long power outage (it pained her to throw out all the food in the refrigerator and freezer; she had just been shopping) or by the rain that the storm flung into their home through windows and under doorways. She has been trying to replace everything little by little, but often, it’s a choice between paying the electric bill or getting her son a replacement pair of sneakers. She used what little savings she had for expenses when they evacuated the area for a week last August. She has no more spare funds.

And then there’s all the FEMA paperwork. Barbara has never dealt with any kind of government bureaucracy, with all its many questions and forms to complete. FEMA has denied her claim, and she doesn’t know what to do.

Barbara can’t afford to replace the sofa in the den that the rain ruined, or the television that her children enjoy watching after school. A friend lent her a small television, but she wants to get one of their own and return the loaner. Try as she might, she simply cannot fix the back door, which ever since the storm, leaks every time rain arrives. Sue jots down notes as Barbara speaks.

Sue smiles reassuringly and lets Barbara know that the Rio Texas Conference and UMCOR will do everything they can to help her get back on her feet. Sue gives Barbara the number for the local volunteer group providing counseling services and encourages her to call for an appointment. “Getting your life back in order is hard work,” says Sue. “It helps to have an outside resource to talk to, someone to listen. They can help you learn how to handle everything, where to start.”

Sue at last asks Barbara, “What would ‘fully recovered’ look like to you? At what point do you think we’ll be ‘done’?” Barbara thinks for a moment and says, “When I can relax on a Saturday morning with my kids on the sofa, watching their favorite programs, and not have to worry about replacing the food or the furniture or the leak under the back door.”

As they close out their meeting, Barbara says, “Thank you for listening. Sometimes it seems like no one does.” They shake hands; Sue will let Barbara know soon when an assessor will visit to look at the damage to the home.

Sue quickly reaches out to a local agency to arrange for some assistance for Barbara’s utility bills, to take some pressure off the family budget. She gives Barbara the number for Legal Aid and together they call and get help with her FEMA appeal. Another call to the Salvation Army starts the process of furniture replacement. Sue then gets in touch with “Bob,” one of the local assessors, to schedule a time to visit Barbara’s home to evaluate the damage.  In the meantime an Early Response Team from San Antonio arrives to install a tarp on Barbara’s leaky roof. They move the family’s belongings out of the way and remove damaged drywall and flooring.

In the weeks that follow, Sue and Barbara meet weekly to monitor her recovery process. During that same time, Sue takes Barbara’s case to the Unmet Needs committee of the long term recovery group to seek funding for materials. Not long after, Barbara shares that construction materials arrived at her home, really cheering her up as a visible reminder that her home would be soon fixed. A team of Amish permanently repaired the roof, and then a Volunteers in Mission team from north Texas arrives to repair the drywall and flooring. It’s messy, but a work in progress.

The full recovery process takes months to finish, and Sue is with Barbara every step of the way. The process won’t be “complete” until Barbara can sit with her kids on the weekend with a bowl of cereal and the television tuned to those favorite programs. Sue says, “We want them to feel like they can move forward.”

Many thanks to Disaster Case Management Supervisor Kim Pickens and Case Manager Zelina Alvarado for their contributions to this story.

 

Connexions

A  story by Laura Bray

Connection (Brit: connexion): historical; An association of Methodist Churches.—Oxford Dictionary

A few wildflowers poked their heads out of the ditch in front of the home, where a crew from Michigan painted siding, installed extra wall supports, and prepared for drywall installation. In a down-to-the-studs interior space, a team member explained the new kitchen layout to the homeowner. A Rio Texas project manager unloaded yet more supplies just procured from the hardware store.

So why is a team from First UMC in the small town of Midland, Michigan (pop. 42,000) all the way down here in Rockport? As unbelievable as it sounds—because one member of their small Michigan congregation is originally from First UMC in Portland, Texas.

Originally a circuit of prayer groups, a “connexion” forms a fundamental basis for United Methodism: we all belong to a wider church, regardless of the size of our local congregation. Sometimes, that connection manifests itself in unexpected ways—such as a family visit from “back home.”

Last fall, senior pastor Dr. J. D. Landis of First UMC in Midland felt a burden on his heart. “We had recently experienced a lot of flooding in Midland and sent lots of people to help. Then we heard about Harvey and Puerto Rico, and I felt that we needed to act.

“I felt very connected to Texas especially, because I heard that it experienced some of the worst flooding our country had ever seen. I also thought about how Texans had shown so much compassion for the displaced from Hurricane Katrina. I felt we ought to reach out and show that same love to those who were now facing that same terrible destruction. So one Sunday, I issued a challenge to our congregation to do something.

“After the service and totally unbeknownst to me, I learned there were two people in the congregation from FUMC Portland, Stacey Hall and her mother. Stacey’s daughter Robin is a member of our church, originally from the Portland area. Stacey told me afterwards, ‘We couldn’t believe you were talking about Harvey. We felt like you knew we were here.’” Stacey helped J. D. make a connection to the Rio Texas Conference to arrange for a work team, and planning began.

The team formed quickly. “Four people volunteered right off the bat, and it then snowballed to 13,” said J. D.

“We probably had the most skilled labor team you’ve ever laid eyes on,” he continued. One team member was a former high school shop teacher and woodworker and has led builds for Habitat for Humanity for decades. Another is a retired contractor.  “We probably had six people who could have led their own mission trip. That was a blessing because it meant we could accomplish a lot.

“What impressed me the most is that a lot of the FUMC Portland people were making repairs for others when their own homes and their own church still need work,” he said.

J. D. made a point of thanking local congregations. “The hospitality of the churches of Rockport, Sinton, Portland, and the Conference was phenomenal. During our trip, we used FUMC Rockport for dinner and evening programs and stayed at the Volunteer Village at FUMC Sinton at night. It was a blessing to connect with local churches.

“The trip was a great opportunity. Some team members want to return to the area. The work will last for years.”

 “I continue to dream and pray about a revival of holiness in our day that moves forth in mission and creates authentic community in which each person can be unleashed through the empowerment of the Spirit to fulfill God's creational intentions.” ― John Wesley

The Little Details - a story about...

Story and pictures by Laura Bray

Pardon us for a minute while we chat about, well…..showers. Many churches have a few spare rooms to house volunteers, plenty of toilets, and even a kitchen for meal preparation. But one hosting requirement remains elusive—a place for volunteers to bathe. One or two showers located near a gym/multi-purpose room just doesn’t meet the need for the number of volunteers required. We bridge that gap with portable shower trailers.

Usually, a shower trailer starts out as a typical commercial pull-behind panel trailer; it’s then converted to its special purpose. The disaster response team from the California Pacific Conference in southern California recently built one.

“Our church in Ontario already had two trailers for disaster recovery,” said Judy Lewis. “On a trip to Maryland, we used this great big lovely shower trailer loaned from a Virginia conference and thought, ‘we want one of these!’ It took us a while to raise the funds, find the builders, electricians, and plumbers, and get the thing working.”

 The trailer vendor installed a 50-amp electrical box, lowered the floor, raised the ceiling, added extra insulation, and added a skylight for the air conditioner. Volunteers installed the four shower stalls, two sinks, and the two sets of washer/dryers. “After Hurricane Harvey, the call went out to determine which conferences had which assets to loan,” said Judy. “We offered our shower trailer. We and the Desert Southwest Conference sent teams to south Texas for seven straight weeks last fall.  One of our early teams brought the shower trailer, hooked it up, and loaned it to First UMC Victoria for six months.”

Judy said southern California doesn’t experience many FEMA disasters (although they recently suffered one with the Thomas wildfire complex and accompanying mudslides). “We’re not yet ready for rebuilding here. Right now, all the work is in soil mitigation and site work after the mudslides. Should we need it, conferences in Washington and Oregon have small trailers they will loan.”

First UMC La Grange is also outfitting a trailer. “Members of the congregation will do the actual build out. We will use it for Harvey relief and any other disasters, plus other mission work and support of the MS150 cycling event,” said Bill Koenig, a church member. The Methodist Foundation provided funds for the purchase and out-fit of the trailer. A Baptist and a Lutheran church are assisting in housing volunteer teams to La Grange; the Baptist church has loaned their shower/laundry trailer until First UMC finishes theirs.

The trailer requires minimal set-up work once delivered to the site. Plumbing discharge is only “gray water” (i.e., no toilets). Local regulations vary but usually permit such drainage into an existing drain or into the ground via a perforated PVC pipe buried in a shallow trench. Heather Linville, business manager at First UMC Victoria, said, “We maintain the trailer by having it cleaned on a regular basis and refilling the propane tanks.” Power comes from extension cords run from inside the church building.

Shower trailers usually include both heat and air conditioning, so they can function in a variety of climates. They’re built and designed to sit outside in the wind and the weather for an extended period of time.

Heather expressed her appreciation for the loan. “The shower trailer is a true blessing and allows us to properly serve our volunteers during their time at the church.” Judy said, “It’s just another one of the little connectional ministries that are the strength of the Methodist church. Instead of divisiveness, it’s nice to work together.”

 “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”—1 Peter 4:10 (NIV)

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Be the Reason Someone Believes

Story and Photos by Laura Bray

At any given moment, Heather Linville could juggle a request for repair on a faulty toilet in the church gym, a status update on an incoming work team, a payment inquiry from the church’s food provider, a notification of an incoming supplies shipment.…or a myriad of other topics, all at once. Heather wears a lot of hats at First UMC Victoria.

Nominally, Heather serves as the Business Manager for FUMC Victoria, taking care of the church’s financial matters and overseeing facility maintenance. But sit down with her for just a few minutes, and you quickly learn that she does much more besides.

“She’s the church host to incoming VIM and ERT disaster recovery teams at FUMC Victoria making sure they get settled in well,” said Vicki McCuistion, Disaster Recovery Asset Manager for the Rio Texas Conference. “But locally, she plays many roles.”

Her organizational skills show in her office space. A long work table in front of her desk holds carefully labeled baskets of disaster recovery projects in various stages of completion. Above it, a white board lists dates for incoming work teams and where they’re coming from. A rolling cart holds notebooks and contact information that she takes home every evening, so she can answer questions during off-hours. It’s a far cry from the “piles on the floor” approach she started when I first met her not long after Hurricane Harvey hit.

During the storm, Heather and her family (who live in nearby Cuero) evacuated to Liberty Hill. She recalled, “The first day I came back to the church, I just burst into tears. There was just so much destruction.”  When she returned to work, she asked the Conference office about how the church could help, “and the next thing we knew, we were the central hub for storm response for a 60-65 mile radius.

“For the first several weeks, I was just trying to figure out how to do things right. The scope was massive, and no one was prepared. We had a lot of help from the Conference office and experienced disaster response coordinators, such as Jim Street of the Capital District.”

Heather oversees the Volunteer Village at FUMC Victoria, supports the ERT teams, serves as the Unmet Needs committee chair for the local Long-Term Recovery Group, while also being a board member. In the months since the storm, FUMC Victoria with support from the Rio Texas Conference upgraded the Volunteer Village to include bunk beds and more showers. The portable shower unit, with four showers and two washers/dryers, is on loan from the Cal Pac Conference (out of Ontario, CA, 1,400 miles away). After their initial visit last fall, they returned home, fitted out the trailer, and brought it back to FUMC Victoria. “We’re also working out agreements with area gyms so we can use their showers,” said Heather.

 “Right now, we can accommodate 62 volunteers,” she said. “During the summer, we plan to host more volunteers in our day school facility just across the street.”

Heather evaluates pending ERT jobs and decides how best to deploy incoming teams that have ERT members. She makes sure to have a clear work plan. “Incoming teams want us to be ready and have work for them to do right away. The worst thing we can do is make them wait,” she said. [All long term rebuilding and repair work is supervised by the Rio Texas conference construction staff.]

Even now, nine months after the storm, the amount of ERT work is staggering. “I have more than 50 Early Response Team jobs still awaiting completion,” she said (which includes roof tarping and removal of damaged drywall). Many elderly residents haven’t yet been able to return to their homes. Crews sometimes return to a home to reattach the roof tarp if a subsequent storm has blown it loose. Work can’t begin on the interior of the home until the roof is secured from the weather.

Heather said the work is physically and mentally exhausting but spiritually renewing. “All these teams are just strangers with big hearts and tools that go out and love people—that’s almost as important (if not more so) than the building work,” she said. “They go out and talk to people, listen to them, let them know they do matter.”

She recalled an early incident with a family and their 10-year-old daughter. Their roof was gone, and the home was destroyed. The team assessed the needs of the entire family, including the daughter. “The storm had destroyed her aquarium and a goldfish, and she was heartbroken. The very first thing we funded was a new aquarium and goldfish. Afterwards, I told our pastor, ‘I’m not so sure I should be in charge of the budget.’ I mean, an aquarium? He assured me of my decision. He said, ‘You made things OK for that little girl.’ It’s the little things like that which keep you going.

“We have a sign out front, covered with clear plastic with moveable letters underneath. The day of the storm, the sign read, ‘Be the reason someone believes.’ The storm ripped off the plastic cover, but the letters stayed put. That’s the hand of God; that’s what we’re doing here.”

 “By this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”—Acts 20:35 (NIV)

Hurricane Harvey Recovery Driving Tour

During the 2018 Rio Texas Annual Conference, the driving tour will cover some of the impacted areas and stop into the case management office to meet some of the Rio Texas staff. Nikki and Vicki will M/C the tour and provide an interactive discussion along the way. 

You will be provided a boxed lunch and we will have you back in time for the Thursday afternoon plenary session. 

Come and see how your church can assist us in these important recovery efforts. 

Download Registration Form

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An Inspiring Presence - a volunteer connection that spans 1380 miles.

by Laura Bray

Last August, Chris Burnley watched the news and videos of Hurricane Harvey’s destruction from his home in Virginia, just south of Roanoke. Four days later, with scenes from the disaster still unfolding, a story in his local newspaper caught his eye. The reporter wrote about Steve and Barbara Abbatello, a couple from nearby Union Hall (only 25 miles from Ferrum College, where Chris works), who drove a trailer full of relief supplies to areas near their second home in Aransas Pass, Texas. An idea began to bloom in Chris’s mind. For the past two years, Ferrum students and staff traveled on a service and discipleship-oriented trip during fall and spring breaks; for the upcoming spring break, why not go help a nearby neighbor (or his neighbors) in Texas?

A week or two before Ferrum College arrived, a conference call from the Rio Texas case management and construction office at FUMC Aransas Pass brought Chris, Mike Bock (Project Manager), Vicki McCuistion (Asset Manager), and Steve Abbatello together to discuss what projects the arriving team would work. Steve (a member of FUMC Portland) was volunteering with the Rio Texas construction office, helping with assessments and construction support. “It put shivers down my spine, thinking of what fate had done with their wanting to come to Texas to lend a helping hand,” recalled Steve.

The staff and students arrived in Aransas Pass in mid-March. As they worked with the local team on that ground that included Steve Abbatello, what started with a newspaper article truly came full circle. Such is the connectionality of the United Methodist church in action.

The Book of Discipline itself speaks to connectionality. “Connectionalism is an important part of our identity as United Methodists. It….. provid[es] a connection for ministry throughout the world, all to the glory of God. It provides us with wonderful opportunities to carry out our mission in unity and strength” (para 701). Two groups serendipitously connecting with each other shows the strength of that bond.

Seven months after the storm, Aransas Pass and its residents have made great strides in recovery, but much work remains. Blue roofing tarps still dot the area, and piles of wood, branches, and trash at the curbside attest to the imminent pick-up of still more storm debris. At several areas around town, various crews work to repair homes, inside and out.

Steve said the crews at FUMC-P work directly with the Rio Texas Conference, an UMCOR partner agency, and its local team, including case managers and construction managers. “It’s hard to tell where the FUMC-P efforts end and Rio Texas efforts begin,” he said. “We want to make it as expeditious as possible to get help to people who need it.”

“A lot of people think, ‘it’s seven months later, everything is back to normal, right?’ Nothing could be further from the truth,” he continued. “We have four to five years of solid effort ahead of us, getting people back to where they should be. We’re encouraging everyone to put together Volunteer In Mission (VIM) rebuilding teams and come down here and help.”

The staff and students from Ferrum worked to renovate an outbuilding into a house for a survivor whose nearby home was completely destroyed by the storm. Rio Texas offered to replace the home, but the 80-year-old owner demurred, simply asking to have the outbuilding renovated.  The Ferrum team worked on paneling and plywood. After they left, another team continued the work, including construction of an outbuilding for a washer and dryer. Many of the volunteer team members attend FUMC-P, which itself is undergoing $1 million in storm-related repairs (they currently worship at the neighboring high school).

Students and staff found the experience rewarding. Student Tressa Alfaro is from Houston; her family suffered extensive storm damage. “I’ve never felt so hopeless watching the devastation on television while in Virginia,” she said. “Growing up on the Gulf, I know just how quickly people forget about the storm once the water is gone. Too often, the people who need help the most don’t receive it. This trip was a beautiful opportunity to learn new skills and help others.”

Chris Burley (who serves as the Vice President for Administration and Finance for Ferrum College) said the trip helped fulfill Ferrum’s motto of “Not Self, But Others.”

As a United Methodist affiliated school, “Ferrum’s very nature is missions-focused,” he said. “The most rewarding part of the trip was helping those in need and teaching students the carpentry skills required to help them.” The trip’s success led to an effort to add similar experiences to Ferrum’s three-week experiential courses offered every May.

Student Mikayla Cannaday found the experience humbling. “Some people lost everything, but they still had the biggest smiles. One woman kept asking what I needed. ‘Mac, do you need sunscreen? Do you have enough water? Do you want a snack?’ She was willing to help anybody.”

“I firmly believe that God put us on this earth to love and help other people,” she continued. “If you have the time and ability to help others, you should.”

Toward the end of the trip, Steve and fellow team leader Dave Lofquist hosted a shrimp boil at Steve’s house. “It was the first Cajun shrimp boil for a lot of those kids,” said Steve. “It was our way of thanking them for what they’d done. They put in long days and had built up an appetite”--to the tune of 20 pounds of shrimp, 7 pounds of sausage, and some crab, corn, and potatoes thrown in for good measure.

“These kids could have spent their spring break at Daytona Beach,” said Steve, full of admiration for their hard work and sacrifice. “They represented their school well; their presence here was inspiring.”

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”-- Colossians 3:12 (NIV)

 

Pictured below: 1 & 2: Ferrum College; 3: Building of the addition, 4: Shrimp boil

UMCOR Sunday March 11 - Use These Helpful Resources!

Great News! UMCOR updated this Pastor and Leaders Kit with all new resources to help you promote UMCOR Sunday (formerly One Great Hour of Sharing) on March 11, 2018. You can post some of these resources on all your social media outlets. UMCOR also has a downloadable poster and a bulletin insert you can print out and insert in your church bulletin the week prior to this special Sunday.

They also have new Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest images to post on various media outlets.

This kit has everything you need to empower your congregation to give generously.

All of these great resources are available at the link - http://www.umcgiving.org/resource-articles/umcor-sunday-pastor-and-leaders-kit

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The Victoria Advocate highlights Rio Texas Harvey Recovery

The Victoria Advocate covered on the front page this week the work being done in the Victoria area in partnership with Rio Texas Conference and FUMC Victoria.

The story highlights the many volunteer teams who have been responding through the Rio Texas Conference office and the establishment of the case management office - all out of FUMC Victoria.

https://www.victoriaadvocate.com/news/2018/jan/29/methodist-churches-help-residents-recover-from-hur/

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Harvey Disaster Recovery Tools for Worship

Join us in lifting up Harvey recovery in your worship services this holiday season.  

We need your help in highlighting needs associated with the long term recovery of Harvey impacted areas.

To assist you in this effort we have created a bulletin insert and worship slide for your use.

Download - Bulletin insert

Download - Worship slide

Please watch the short video below and SHARE! - a wonderful tool for your church website or including in worship!

Help us provide hope to the thousands of families who have been displaced from their homes and designate your donations for Advance #2057.

Case Management Training Led by Nikki Leaverton

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November 21 and 22, four case managers and one case manager supervisor received their official UMCOR disaster case management training at Grace United Methodist Church in Corpus Christi. (Thank you Grace UMC!)

Nikki Leaverton, Rio Texas Disaster Recovery Director and an UMCOR consultant, led the two day training with new staff that will be based in offices in Aransas Pass United Methodist Church serving the Coastal Bend area.  The team will work in partnership with the Coastal Bend Disaster Recovery Group. The intention is to have an office with six staff, with one case manager still to be hired. 

The team represents a wealth of local knowledge and passion for serving their neighbors in need. Discussion included healthy boundaries, examples of cases, how to interact with clients, and safety policy.

Vicki McCuistion, the Disaster Recovery Asset Manager, shared experiences from the Wimberley flood recovery efforts from her previous work with the Barnabas Connection during the 2015 two nationally declared disasters.  Nikki shared of her work in West, Texas responding to the fertilizer plant explosion. 

Gary Herring, the Construction Supervisor was also in attendance. 

Rio Texas Youths passionate about missions should attend UMVIM Leadership Training

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Youth that have participated in student mission trips throughout the years are invited to join any of the Volunteers in Mission (VIM) Leader Training sessions occurring around the conference


All volunteers (youth adult) interested in mission leadership are encouraged to join one of the sessions at UMVIM Leadership Training signup.

Youth will take their passion and skills learned during student mission trips and apply it to greater opportunities in Rio Texas, nationally and abroad. The UMVIM Team Leader training event is the start of a lifestyle whereby Christians, adults and students, may offer their skills and talents for Christian service at home and around the world. The training event provides the theological foundation for missional living while learning the skills to partner and be culturally sensitive to the needs of those we serve.

Missional life is about God's mission in the world and may include construction, renewing of mission facilities, feeding, teaching, witnessing, conducting medical clinics, conducting Bible study or Bible School for children, and serving in disaster relief efforts around the world. This training is one avenue for these teens to develop spiritual leadership and missional focus to guide tomorrow’s church.

In addition, Rio Texas is partnering with UM ARMY as they provide youth camps to help Harvey relief in League City, Edna and LaGrange , see UMARMY

Hold off on flood buckets... for now

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Thanks to your hard works and generosity, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is nearing capacity for cleaning buckets in their storage facilities.

UMCOR is asking for those who are working on filling buckets to complete their work but is also asking those who have not yet started new projects to hold off for now. It is likely, in the future, that some of the current supplies will be distributed and there will again be room in the storage facilities.  

If you currently have finished buckets, please send an email to media@riotexas.org and someone will contact you to help coordinate delivery to the warehouse in Kerrville.