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May 24, 2011

Diocese Deploys "Cooler People" to Mississippi Disaster Zone

Diocesan Emergency Response Coordinators, Archdeacon Russ Oechsel and the Rev. Gill Keyworth, will be leading a team of seven spiritual care workers to Mississippi in the heart of the April tornado damage. The workers have been dubbed “cooler people” because they carry cold beverages to survivors via coolers.


“We are going to do spiritual care in the streets,” Oechsel said. “We just want to listen to those affected tell their stories and try to connect them to the right places. These people are in complete shock.”


The group will leave Friday morning, May 27 and stay through the weekend in Tupelo, MS with All Saints’ Episcopal Church and rector the Rev. Paul Stevens. Stevens will lead the spiritual care team into Smithville, MS where a great deal of damage occurred. 


The spiritual care teams were trained last summer at Camp Allen as part of the diocese’s enhanced effort to prepare for disasters after Hurricane Ike through Texas Episcopal Disaster Relief. The training took place in tandem with Episcopal Relief and Development.


The spiritual care workers relieve local clergy from the enormous task of reaching out to the entirety of the greater community and allow them to focus on their own parish families. They also allow survivors to talk about their experiences as they try to regain control of their lives.


Oechsel hopes to gather more information on the trip so that the diocese can decide the best way to help. He is in regular contact with Katie Mears, Program Manager for Episcopal Relief & Development’s US Disaster Program.