A Congregational church in Gorham is spearheading what its pastor hopes will turn into a statewide effort to provide relief to victims of the tornado that devastated Moore, Okla., on Monday.
The West Gorham Union Church on Route 25 started raising funds on Tuesday to benefit a group of individuals and families who have taken up shelter in the First Baptist Church of Moore.
Meanwhile, Gov. Paul LePage and the Maine Emergency Management Agency issued a statement Tuesday urging Mainers who want to help to donate money.
State officials said monetary donations are more effective than sending supplies or having goods transported into the region because relief agencies can purchase items locally on an as-needed basis.
“We don’t want to have people driving out there because most of the infrastructure has been destroyed,” said Lynette Miller, spokeswoman for MEMA. “Sending money doesn’t quite provide that emotional connection, but it is the best way to help in a disaster like this.”
The American Red Cross is also accepting donations on its website (www.redcross.org) or at its toll-free number, 1-800-RED CROSS.
The Rev. Matt McDonald became pastor of the West Gorham Union Church about three weeks ago after serving as the minister of a church in Belfast. The 32-year-old McDonald, who grew up in Millinocket, studied at a Bible college in Oklahoma during the early 2000s. “I understand what it’s like to live in tornado alley,” he said.
McDonald said he woke up Tuesday morning and went to his office, where he began pondering how he could help the victims.
He made some phone calls to churches in Oklahoma and connected with officials at the First Baptist Church in Moore. Members of that church have converted their sanctuary into an emergency shelter for about 100 people.
Any donations received by the Gorham church will go toward helping that group of tornado victims, McDonald said.
McDonald said donations started coming in after he posted a message on the church’s Facebook page.
“I want to make it clear that this is not about our church or about me. It’s about people of faith coming together to help the victims,” McDonald said.
Checks should be mailed to: West Gorham Union Church, P.O. Box 894, Gorham, ME 04038. The memo line on the checks should indicate that the donation is for the “Oklahoma Relief Fund.” For more information, contact the church at 839-5946.
Maine officials said the United Way of Central Oklahoma has established a tornado relief fund (www.unitedwayokc.org). The website explains how donations can be made. Proceeds from the fund will be distributed to local agencies involved in the relief effort.
“When we see the pictures of the devastation in Oklahoma, we immediately want to help,” LePage said in a statement. “We need to focus that generosity in a way that can be effective immediately. That means supporting the agencies that are already active in the relief effort.”
Under a mutual aid agreement with other states, Maine sent teams of relief workers to Vermont after Hurricane Irene and to New York and New Jersey following Superstorm Sandy.
There have been no requests from Oklahoma for states to send manpower to the disaster area.
“If there is a request Maine can meet, we will offer our help,” Lepage said.
Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: