Coker’s call leads him to relief projects

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 18, 1999

As residents along the East Coast begin to clean up after Hurricane Floyd, there’s a good chance some of them will be helped by a project led by new Grace United Methodist Church pastor Hiram Coker.

Coker, who joined the church in June, is also coordinator of the United Methodist Church Conference’s disaster relief.

&uot;I backed into it,&uot; is how Coker describes his involvement.

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Actually, he became interested in disaster relief when one of the churches he pastored on Mississippi’s gulf coast was struck by a tornado several years ago.

After that storm, the Salvation Army asked the church to pitch in. So with 15 ladies gathered in the church kitchen, &uot;the Salvation Army brought in armloads of bread and said, ‘We need 1,600 sandwiches,&uot; Coker said.

Seeing how the community pulled together to help was inspiring, Coker said. And now he is inspiring his congregation – and other Natchez churches – to collect supplies for &uot;flood buckets.&uot;

The 5-gallon buckets have everything someone needs to clean up after a storm, from rubber gloves to disinfectants.

The relief efforts are ongoing, Coker said. When the church has gathered enough supplies, they are taken to the UMCOR – United Methodist Committe on Relief – warehouse in Baldwin, La. From there they are sorted and sent to the places that need them most.

Besides flood buckets sent to clean up after a storm, church members have collected sewing kits for Kosovo refugees and school kits for Central Americans still struggling from last year’s devastating hurricane.

Often, Coker said, children in the church decorate the buckets and kits with special messages for the families who eventually receive them.

Coker said he’s found his congregation and community to be generous and supportive. One of his favorite groups at the church are the WhaChaMaCallits, a group which meets for coffee at the church every morning.

&uot;They check on each other,&uot; Coker said. &uot;It’s the best network I’ve ever seen. They know if somebody needs help.&uot;

Coker has five children with his wife Cindy, including an adopted 3-year-old boy. And he has his own take on why he left teaching to become a minister.

&uot;God struck me stupid and made me a Methodist preacher,&uot; he laughs.