Editor’s Note: The last names of family members were not used for privacy reasons.
In early September 2021, the rain from Hurricane Ida soaked the East Coast. In the area around Blooming Glen (PA) Mennonite Church, flash flooding caused widespread damage to homes and businesses. The Pennridge Ministerium of area churches worked together with social service agencies to try and help those that had been flooded out of their homes.
With affordable, short-term, local housing nearly non-existent, at first, many of the displaced families stayed in hotels, sometimes at a great distance from their home community. This solution caused great inconvenience and additional expenses related to job commutes, transporting children to school, and feeding their families (hotels do not have kitchens).
The church participated in an Interfaith Hospitality network in past years, and we have classrooms with an adjacent full bathroom. What could we offer in terms of temporary lodging in our building?
Working with the school district social worker, a family was identified that needed a temporary living space. And that’s how we met Noe and Margarita and their children, Noe (son), Neftaly, and Scarlett, who lived in our church building for nearly three months.
Margarita described the day their rental property got flooded. “Our house is ¼ mile from the creek, so at first, we didn’t think anything would happen when it started raining. We lived 17 years in that house and no floods! But the water kept rising!”
Daughter Neftaly added, “All of a sudden, the road into our house was covered with water. I told mom, we can’t get out!” Water covered the first floor of their house and all of the family’s furniture and bedding was lost.
They spent that first night without a home at their landlord’s house. Then they stayed with friends who opened their home to them. “It was ten people from two families living in a small space,” explained Noe. “We looked but couldn’t find anywhere to move and stay in the school district and near our jobs. Everything we looked at either cost too much or required a long lease.”
“All of a sudden, the road into our house was covered with water. I told mom, we can’t get out!”
After the leadership of Blooming Glen processed the possibility internally, they reached out to the Pennridge School social worker. “Then the school social worker connected us with Blooming Glen,” Noe continued. “I didn’t think that such a thing was possible, that there would be people that don’t even know us, yet would help us.”
With furniture contributions from Care & Share Thrift Shoppes, congregants, and other area churches, several adjacent classrooms were turned into bedrooms. Couches and a coffee table turned a classroom lobby into a living room. The family moved into their temporary home.
The family has joined the congregation for Sunday worship services and fellowship meals, and congregants have gotten to know the family as they’ve brought in evening meals to share together.
“It’s been a good experience living here,” Neftaly commented, “I have made new friends in the youth group.” Neftali has also been preparing to get her driver’s license, and like countless teenagers before her, has practiced driving in the big, empty church parking lot.
“I want to stay here and not move back to our house!” said 7-year-old Scarlett. “I am always excited to go to Sunday school to see my new friends. I took my first Bible to school and was reading it to my friends.”
It’s been a wonderful experience for all involved, and Blooming Glen is considering ongoing possibilities for providing short-term emergency housing.
“We have met lots of nice people here, and we’ve been grateful to receive help,” Margarita explained. “I didn’t think anyone would help us like that in our time of need. But we needed an apartment, and you provided it.”
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