Churches provide shelter, relief for explosion victims

By Ashley Pereyra and Rebecca Fiedler

Many places in the Waco community are taking donations and offering shelter to people affected by the West explosion. In particular, some Waco churches have been organization centers for the road to recovery.

The Church of the Open Door in Waco has opened its doors for anyone needing help, including anyone needing a place to stay. The church can house the people until they can make other arrangements. However, no one has yet utilized this offer.

The church first heard about the explosion around 8 p.m. Wednesday while the church’s pastor, Ronnie Holmes, was giving a sermon. His wife came on stage and whispered the news in his ear. Holmes and his wife live seven miles away from West. His extended family lives in West in the countryside.

The church also has people in their congregation who are from West.

“We attempted to make contact with those in our church, first of all, to make sure they were OK,” Beth Marrow, secretary of the Church of the Open Door said.

Holmes said no congregation members have been hurt as far as he knows.

The church doors opened immediately after they heard about the explosion, offering help for those in need. Marrow said the church is dealing with broad needs such as food, clothes and shelter.

People and businesses such as Smarty Pants and the Bellmead Police Department have called the church to give references of help for people and pass information on about donation opportunities. The city of Bellmead informed Marrow to send donations to the West Auction Barn in West.

Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches offered sandwiches. One bank called the church offering resources. McLennan County Health District gave the church its number. Briar Cove Apartments contacted the church. They even got a call from World Hunger Relief in Dallas.

Marrow said these people expected more refugees to be at the church. Holmes said he thinks most of the people who were displaced or affected are staying with family and friends outside of the area because these are more comforting places than a gym or church.

“I think the bedrock thing is that God is described in the Bible as a God of hope.” Holmes said. “When crisis comes and tragedy strikes like this, for most of us it serves as a time to re-evaluate and re-prioritize our personal lives. What really matters isn’t always what consumes us, and this provides an opportunity to look at that freshly.”

Another church, Central United Methodist Church, has also offered its services to those effected by the blast. On Wednesday, Pastor Brad Brittain went to Hillcrest after hearing the news of the explosion.

Members came and opened the church to get it ready for donations and refugees. Donations have come in for West over the last day. The church has also not received any refugees, however it does have several showers for refugees to use if necessary.

Patrick Stroman, a volunteer at Central United Methodist Church, said the church refocused today on their efforts to help West.

“We anticipate we will be a drop station for donations and a rest center for families who have waiting room fatigue or for employees who come stressed,” Stroman said.

The church can provide snacks and beverages for people affected by the explosion. Hospital employees are welcome to come take a break at the church.

Donations such as bottled water, food, clothes and money are being collected. Money donations will go towards gift cards to help people buy things like food, clothes and home repair supplies.

Stroman said church efforts are ongoing and that the road to recovery for West seems long.

“It’s a work in progress. We’ll keep on going,” Stroman said. “It’s not a sprint. It’s going to be a marathon for probably the next two or three years to get folks back to some level of normalcy. We’re going to be here. We’ve been here a long time. We’ll be here a long time. We appreciate the opportunity to serve.”

At Victorious Life Church, a full kitchen and 50 cots are available for use. Jody Claridy, a coordinator at the Victorious Life Church, said the church is very involved in helping out refugees. On Thursday they held a dinner at the Best Western Czech Inn in West.

The inn is giving free three-night stays to people displaced from their homes. Many donations, ranging from food and beverages to diapers and clothes, are also being collected.