Calling for Help

Calling for Help

UCM cares for 87 families and Americans Helping Americans collects supplies.

United Community Ministries’ (UCM) load has grown heavier this past few weeks. In addition to providing for the hundreds of existing clients in the area, they have now been named as one of the three community-based organizations in Fairfax County assigned to handle Hurricane Katrina evacuees. Cheri Zeman, executive director for UCM, said that there are 5,900 evacuees in the metropolitan area; 1,100 of them in Fairfax County. UCM is managing 87 of these families.

”Our mission is to coordinate with these families by doing case management and integrating them into the community,” Zeman said. “People don’t realize how immersed we are in this. We are asking faith communities and other community partners who are concerned to support this effort.”

Money, food and volunteers are mostly what they need. In a letter sent out to supporters, Cecilia Vergaretti, volunteer coordinator, writes,

“To All of Our Faithful Friends:

“As you know, Hurricane Katrina took a major toll on the lives of millions of people in the Gulf Coast region of the United States. What you may not know is that, the Washington Metropolitan Area has received close to 6,000 people from the affected areas and that Fairfax County has already received 1,100 evacuees. And of those in Fairfax County UCM is currently serving almost 100 of these individuals. While other larger agencies like the Red Cross have done a great job in getting evacuees short-term help, it has become the responsibility of UCM to coordinate with other nonprofits in the area to assist with long-term support and case management for many of the evacuees who cannot immediately return home.

“UCM has provided food, clothing, school supplies and referrals for evacuees. We have been able to place persons in housing units and this week, a UCM social worker escorted a mom and her children to their new schools with school supplies provided by your donations. We have even provided plane tickets so that a family could be reunited.

“This is our call to action and we need to ask for your help. UCM is working hard to establish an emergency distribution center for clothing and other items so that there is a centralized location to receive, organize, match up, and distribute items that evacuees need. These kinds of services are what make UCM so special and unique in the community. All of this however, comes with a price, and this is how we could use your help.

“UCM will post a list of items needed on our Web site at and on a regional Web site, In this way, we will be able to keep the community apprised of the specific and changing needs of the evacuees. In order to do this, we need volunteers to help us with all aspects of establishing and maintaining the distribution center through this crisis. We will need volunteers to pick-up, receive and sort donations. We need volunteers to update the Web site listings. Finally, we need volunteers to greet and serve evacuees who will come for assistance. We are confident that with your help, we can make this work.

“Additionally, we have established a Katrina Fund at UCM. It has been a difficult decision to ask for more from those who give so much, but we feel that this situation warrants the request. The number of evacuees who will seek UCM assistance will increase and UCM is committed to serving those people. Our funds, however, are not limitless and we need to continue to serve those ‘locals’ in our community who are in need. As our busiest season approaches, we ask for your prayers and generosity to help the community through these difficult days.

“We have enclosed an envelope for your donation. Thank you in advance for your understanding and your generous support of UCM and I look forward to having you on board as a volunteer at the distribution center.”

A LETTER HAS also gone out from Americans Helping Americans, an affiliate of Christian Relief Services that has been helping with relief efforts.

It reads,

“Dear Friends,

“I know you will be proud to know that, with your help, Americans Helping Americans has been making great progress in helping Hurricane Katrina survivors: with donations of food, shelf stable fruit juices, personal hygiene items and cleaning supplies.

“Shipments: So far, five semi truck loads of supplies, valued at over $500,000 have been shipped and distributed to our partner organizations in Baton Rouge, La. and Longview, Miss.

“Housing for Homeless Evacuees: We have set aside 14 vacant apartment units in Parkwood Apartments, in Alexandria, Virginia (which is owned and operated by one of our affiliates) for displaced Katrina families to move into during the next few days. (One family will be moving in this weekend and two others have been accepted for move-in next week.) We currently are furnishing these units with furniture, and supplies of household items and personal hygiene items.

“Your Continuing Support-Now, we also are gearing up to assist the victims of Hurricane Rita. Please let the word out to your family, friends and business associates that their support will be appreciated. Visit our Web site at: Thank you so much for your support and God Bless.”

Paul Krizek said that they are still sending supplies to Mississippi churches and taking in folks here in Alexandria City at the Parkwood Apartments.

“I do believe two families have moved in already (from the D.C .Armory),” he said. “One item that is especially helpful is coolers (like Igloo coolers). We sent a slew of those and they were well received.”