St. Philip's Disaster Relief

Teams of volunteers, with varied skills, respond to natural disasters helping victims rebuild their homes and lives. Efforts range from day trips to week-long trips. Relief work has been done in Mississippi, Texas, and New Jersey following hurricanes; Minnesota, Iowa, Tennessee, North Dakota, Colorado, and Missouri following flooding; Colorado following wildfires; and Minnesota, Oklahoma and Wisconsin following tornadoes.

Hurricane Harvey Team #2 - Daily Updates

Sunday, September 30

We arrived back at St. Philip’s a few minutes before 5:00 this evening. The drive was uneventful – which is a good thing. Watching the temperature drop almost 20 degrees throughout the day was not such a good thing.

When Pastor Deb was with us on Monday, she spoke about the those affected by Hurricane Harvey that were “camping in their own houses.” It was a fitting description of what we experienced in two of the houses we worked in. The sheetrocking and flooring we installed will help those homeowners get closer to having normal living conditions.

Our week was good in so many ways. We were safe – with only a couple of minor injuries. We were comfortable at Zion Retreat Center – with no intruders this time. We were well fed – with meals made by our cook or supplied by others we met. We were supported – by each other, those we worked with in Galveston County, and those back home. We were called – and we answered.

The journey continues…

Saturday, September 29

We were up early this morning in order to be on the road by 6:30 AM. It was very warm and muggy as we loaded the trailers and it started to sprinkle as we left Galveston. We ran into frequent, heavy rains most of the early morning along with road construction that made for some tough driving. But by lunchtime we had driven out of the rain and had a nice afternoon and evening. 700 miles and 13+ hours later, we arrived in Nevada, MO. We plan to be on the road at 7:00 AM and should arrive back at St. Philip’s around 5:00 PM. It will be a shorter drive – only 550 miles!

Friday, September 28

A great week of work has come to an end. Late this morning, the painting was completed in the home that we started yesterday. By noon, the last pieces of flooring and molding were installed in the house in Dickenson along with a new toilet that we purchased for the homeowners. The house in Santa Fe had the drywall completed yesterday and that team mudded and mudded and mudded all of today. The foodbank was a whirlwind of activity as the sheetrocking and mudding/sanding continued in the morning. As the other crews finished up at their jobs, they joined in the work at the foodbank helping with the completion of the wall, the installation of the baseboards, painting, and clean up. Whatever needed to get done, there was someone to jump in and help out. It was amazing to see that work so smoothly and fun to have almost the whole team working in one location. We haven’t done that for a while.

We got back to the retreat center in the late afternoon and then headed down to the beach for our traditional pizza party. As we parked the cars, and walked along the seawall to the area to get to the beach, it was raining. Plan B was running through our heads as wet pizza didn’t sound too appetizing. But the rain stopped about the time the pizza arrived and we had a wonderful evening on the beach to end our week in Galveston. A big thank you to Pops Foley of Galveston County Recovers for providing the pizza (and for coordinating our work here in Galveston.) Most of the team went to bed early. We are leaving Galveston at 6:30 and will travel about 700 miles tomorrow.

Thursday, September 27

Encounters should be the word for today – for a couple of reasons. The crew putting in the flooring were in small spaces throughout the day so they had physical close encounters. The sheetrock crew had some close encounters that dealt with safety with a couple of episodes of falling off ladders/stepstools – but no injuries!

The crew at the foodbank has the one side of the wall all mudded and ready for painting. The opposite side has been insulated and about 2/3 of the sheetrock installed. The baseboards have all been installed. Carpet has been removed from a large room. They also cut an opening in an existing wall and installed a door.

The flooring crew with so many tight spots had to make many, many cuts as they installed flooring in the hallway, laundry room, and the bathroom. They also got most of the molding nailed in place in all of the rooms where the flooring has been installed.

Earlier this week, our cook Dawn, had an encounter with a neighborhood woman and her son who were out walking near the retreat center. She and her husband own a restaurant and catering business and offered to provide a meal for us. Tonight, they did just that. We were treated with a wonderful meal including coconut cream pie for dessert!

The sheetrock crew completed the sheetrocking in all of the rooms and the garage. They finished the mudding in one of the bedrooms and have the other bedroom about 60% done. They also spent some time moving the homeowner’s possessions back to where they were stored when they started.

The painting crew started work in another house and finished priming in the rooms that needed that and painted the rooms that had already been primed.

Tomorrow we will continue working in these four locations to finish up our work week. We are hoping for good weather so we can have our traditional pizza party on the beach.

Wednesday, September 26

Progress was the word for today.

The sheetrock has been completed in the one house and the mudding has been started. More sheetrock was delivered and that team will be able to sheetrock the garage and continue with the mudding.

The wall at the foodbank passed inspection so the team there was able to start insulating the other side. The taping and mudding continued on that wall so one side is ready for painting. The painting of the office area of the foodbank was completed along with a large wall in the warehouse and also the utility room. The installation of the baseboards is about half done.

The flooring installation moved along despite some heavy downpours. The large living room and master bedroom are done as well as another room and the hallway. There are many corners in this house which makes the shoe molding installation a slow process but two rooms were completed.

Mike and Renee attended the Galveston County Long Term Recovery Committee meeting this afternoon. This is a group of people that come from many agencies that are working together to help those in Galveston County that were impacted by Hurricane Harvey. There has bee much progress in their work and they are developing workgroups and plans to help the staggering number of individuals that need assistance.

In the evening, we were honored to have Shelli Williamson, the Disaster Response Coordinator in Texas, from Upbring Disaster Response (formerly Lutheran Social Services Disaster Response) visit one of our worksites and join us for dinner and our team meeting. She led us in devotions, shared with us about her work and live, listened to our stories, and thanked us (more than once) for being here. And she brought cookies!

Tuesday, September 25

Another great day – in spite of heavy downpours a couple of times today. We continued with the same work as yesterday. The piles of sheetrock and flooring are going down and the paint cans are being emptied. This means there are many walls that have been sheetrocked, a couple of large rooms that now have laminate flooring in place, many baseboards, molding strips, and walls that have been painted.

We are enjoying the retreat center and the evenings have become a wonderful time for fellowship with many conversations shared, games played, and other activities. This evening we enjoyed cake in celebration of the birthday of longtime team member, Richard Young.

Monday, September 24

Things went fairly smooth this morning – better than a “typical” Monday. We started working at three locations.

Two teams are at the Galveston County Food Bank – working in the “annex building” that they have acquired. One of the teams started built a steel stud wall that is 25+ feet long by 14 feet high. The sheetrock will start to go on it tomorrow. The other team started painted all of the 1”x10” boards that will be used for baseboards. They also started painting in the office area while waiting for the baseboards to dry.

Another team is working in a home in Santa Fe. They started sheetrocking and made good progress despite all of the homeowner’s possessions they had to work around.

The fourth team thought they were going to have to remove flooring but found that that was already done so they were able to get started laying laminate floor. They installed 14 of the 70 boxes of flooring that were delivered this morning.

We had a guest for dinner this evening – Pastor Deb Grant from Faith Lutheran in Dickinson. Last trip, we had worked in Pastor Deb’s church and a home the church owned. It was great to see her again and to hear of the progress at Faith. But we were also reminded of how much there is still to be done. We will get some of that done and hope that there will be many others that follow us.

Sunday, September 23

We left McAlester, OK early this morning with a planned nine hour traveled day. All went well and we even arrived at Zion Retreat Center a little earlier than expected. We unloaded all of gear and started to settle in.

We met with the Guy and Pops from the Galveston County Long Term Recovery Committee and have picked out four jobs we are going to start working on tomorrow with a couple of others that we hope to get to later in the week.

Using the brand-new online ordering and pick up at WalMart, Dawn had the grocery shopping done in no time and we had a wonderful supper. The rest of the evening was spent lounging around at the retreat center with most of us in bed by 10 o’clock. We are thankful for the uneventful journey to Galveston and are anxious to get to work tomorrow.

Saturday, September 22

After a wonderful send off, 21 of us left St. Philip’s shortly after 6 AM. By lunchtime there were 22 of us, and by suppertime the team was complete when the two remaining team members met us in Oklahoma. We are in McAlester, OK for the night and plan to be back on the road at 7 AM. We should arrive in Galveston in the early evening.

Thank you to all that were there to see us off, those that have sent us texts, emails, and Facebook comments, and those that are praying for us. We appreciate all of you.

Hurricane Harvey Team #1 - Daily Updates

Monday – Day 10: There wasn’t supposed to be a Day 10 to this trip but, fortunately, it was uneventful. We left Des Moines shortly after 9 this morning and pulled into St. Philip’s shortly before 2 p.m. The freeway was bare the whole way with no blowing or drifting to deal with. And we saw very few cars in the ditch.

Overall, it was a great trip. The Zion Retreat Center was a wonderful place to stay, the Texas weather was great, our partners in Texas worked hard to provide us with everything we needed for our rebuilding work, our cooks kept us well fed, our crew chiefs led their teams effectively, and our team members were awesome!

We worked in a church and six houses that had water damage from the hurricane – mostly installing drywall, mudding and taping, and painting. We also did some demolition work, plumbing work, electrical work, cleaning, cabinet assembly, countertop installation, and much more - all things that will help those impacted by Hurricane Harvey move forward.

We thank everyone that was involved in this trip – our team members; our Texas partners; our financial supporters; those that supported us with prayers, text messages, and comments on Facebook throughout the week, our family and friends at home, and our neighbors that cleared our driveways of 20 inches of snow!

This adventure is over, but our journey continues. It’s very likely that we will be back in the same area of Texas in the fall.

Day 9 - Sunday: We had a good night in Emporia, KS and left there later than our original plan since we were only going as far as Des Moines. We were able to have lunch at a sit down restaurant, instead of fast food, since we weren’t on much of a schedule. The drive to Des Moines was okay. Some wind and snow but nothing that caused us any trouble. There was very little snow in southern Iowa so there wasn’t any drifting to deal with. We having been watching the northern Iowa and southern Minnesota all day and will do the same tomorrow morning to determine the next leg of our journey. We hope to leave at 9 AM and travel the remaining 250 miles to Fridley. We are thankful to God for our safe travels and all of the prayers and well wishes from those that are following our journey.

Day 8 - Saturday: Our day started as planned. We left the Zion Retreat Center around 6:30 this morning. From then on, everything changed. Our first stop was to be at a rest area that was closed, the high winds caused a drop in gas mileage so we made unplanned gas stops, and that changed where we were going to each lunch and dinner. We did make it to our planned hotel in Emporia, KS - tired, but safe. En route, we made the decision to not travel all the way to Fridley on Sunday due to the weather. We plan to spend Sunday night in Des Moines and arrive home in the late afternoon on Monday.

When we were at Camp Victor in Ocean Springs, MS over ten years ago, their motto was “Semper Gumby” (Always Flexible) and we’ve used it many, many times since then. We certainly lived it today.

Day 7 - Friday: We were back at our jobsites this morning - continuing where we left off yesterday. Hanging drywall, taping and mudding, cabinet assembly, and painting filled the day for most of our team members. Although no house is completely finished, the progress towards getting these people back in their homes has taken a giant leap forward and given them some much needed hope, along with the realization that they aren’t forgotten. One of the homeowners told us, more than once, that love is an action word. It was wonderful to bring them labor, love, and hope.

The weather cooperated and we were able to spend the evening having our pizza party on the beach. That is a time honored tradition that gives us an opportunity after a long week of hard work to relax, enjoy each other’s company, the warm temperatures, the wind, the waves and even the screeching seagulls.

Day 6 - Thursday: A great day! We have made so much progress everywhere we worked today. We installed many sheets of drywall today and put on gallons of mud. We also assembled cabinets and did some additional plumbing work and probably a hundred other things.

We’ve presented prayer shawls to a couple of the homeowners and, as often the case, it was emotional for everyone. They all have been so grateful and have touched our hearts with their stories.

We were joined tonight for dinner by Jessica Vermiliyea, Pastor Deb Grant (from Faith Lutheran), and Kécia Mallette - our partners on this trip. What a wonderful evening! We are so grateful for all of their help in making this trip a success.

Day 5 - Wednesday: Our week is going well. We finished up the work we were assigned (and much more) at another house. The family had been living there without a functioning kitchen. They now has a countertop in place with a working sink (and much more water available due to the discovery of clogged aerators and lines.) They also have much improved wiring and lighting so will be able to use their kitchen once again.

The work continued at the other two sites with lots of mudding and other tasks being done. There are so many small but time-consuming tasks that need to be done - often without the correct supplies or tools on hand. Some of us are getting familiar with a few of the Home Depot stores in the area. We also started hanging drywall in two additional homes today and will soon be mudding in those two.

We were joined at dinner tonight by Jessica Vermilyea. She is the director of Upbring Disaster Response (formerly Lutheran Social Services) of Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana. She was instrumental in our planning for this Texas trip. She shared her moving story of how she got started in her present career shortly after Hurricane Katrina along with some of her experiences in disaster response. It was certainly something we could all relate to.

Day 4 - Tuesday: We continued with the work we started yesterday with so much going on at once. Team members were taping, mudding, sanding, hauling drywall, doing plumbing work, installing trim, hanging drywall, painting, doing electrical work, tearing out walls, framing walls, and much, much more. So much progress in just a couple of days. We finished up the drywalling at one of the house and are moving onto drywalling in two more houses tomorrow. We will continue to work in the other two homes and at Faith Lutheran Church.

By the way, It was 75 degrees here today!

Day 3 - Monday: We started our morning with the whole team traveling to the Galveston County Food Bank to drop off the food we had collected for the Kidz Pacz program and the prayer shawls that were given to us by St. Philip’s and Atonement Lutheran Church. What a wonderful opportunity to see the building and hear about the programs they have in place. And it certainly was a treasured experienced for the seven of us to that had worked renovating the building on our previous Galveston trips.

After that, we split up and went off to four jobsites - three homes and a church. It was a typical Monday morning - with the work getting off to a slow start due to unknown tasks, lack of supplies, and tools in the wrong location. But things got rolling and progress was made at all the sites. We will be returning to all of the same jobsites in the morning and expect to get a lot accomplished.

And the temperature was over 60 degrees this afternoon!!!

Day 2 - Sunday: We were on the road at 7:15 this morning. It was great to see grass, trees with leaves, and even flowers along the freeway. Driving through Dallas and Houston made some of us realize that the roads and traffic in the Twin Cities maybe aren’t so bad. We arrived in Galveston shortly before 4 PM, go unpacked, had dinner, and are now relaxing. 1300 miles in a car is tiring. We probably will all be asleep before our 10:30 lights out time. Tomorrow morning we will go to the Galveston County Food Bank to drop off the food that was collected at St. Philip’s and then will be off to our jobs at four locations in the Texas City/Dickinson area.

Day 1 - Saturday: We left St. Philip's with snow on the ground and temperature of 12 degrees. We've never been in that situation before. But we arrived in Moore, OK around 8 this evening with no snow on the ground and the temperature all the way up to 42 degrees. The drive was uneventful and we are grateful for that. We traveled just over 800 miles today and will go the remaining 500 miles tomorrow. We expect to arrive in Galveston around 4 p.m.

Check out the story about SPDR's 50th trip, to New Jersey last spring, on the ELCA website by clicking here.


Click here to read a story about SPDR in the ELCA's online magazine - Living Lutheran.

We've published a newsletter!

Click on THE JOURNEY to read the Summer 2014 issue.

Links to past issues:

Volume 2, Issue 1

Volume 1, Issue 2

Volume 1, Issue 1

Check out this Minot Flood Anniversary Tribute video from First Lutheran's Facebook page.

Watch for our favorite Minot churches - First Lutheran, Christ Lutheran, and First Presbyterian. And watch closely at the 3:20 mark.


Tomorrow night I sleep in my own bed for the first time in 366 days. They are coming in the morning to get the carpet in the stairs. We moved a chair and three bookcases down from the bedrooms today. We should have all of our furniture back by Sunday.

We realize that there is no way we would be where we are at now if St Philip’s mission, people, and supporters had not become part of our life. 2011/2012 taught us that things can be replaced and what counts are our Lord, our families, our friends, our health, and our desire to face challenges as opportunities.

Have a great weekend.



Click here to view an ELCA video on disaster response. Watch carefully around the 0:30 mark. Also, listen to what Pastor Nevergall is saying about volunteering.