A local church is raising funds to provide aid for victims of the Tennessee wildfires.
This holiday season, the First Christian Church of Urbana is accepting contributions on Christmas Eve to help the victims.
Pastor Mike Stewart said church member Carla Swank has an aunt in Gatlinburg.
“Everybody’s heart was touched by the photos and everything on the news and many people from this area have been to Gatlinburg,” Stewart said. He said he and his wife have visited a cabin there the last seven years. “That’s now gone,” he said of the cabin.
Swank’s aunt is a member of the Cartertown Baptist Church and Stewart contacted that church’s youth minister, Tylor Cates.
Stewart said as the fires were raging church members thought the church had burned down.
“This youth minister told me he was sitting on his couch at his house getting these texts from the city that their church building was gone,” Stewart said. “He said members were calling him saying, ‘what did you hear about our church’ and he said well we’re told it’s gone. He said, ‘I was consoling the church members and telling them that the church is not a building, the church is the people and the church will continue on with or without a building and if we have to meet in a tent we will.’”
The church was spared, but Stewart said virtually everything else on the road was destroyed.
According to information Cates shared with Stewart, the fire destroyed the homes of many church members. Because of the fire, 86 students at a local high school lost their homes while 109 students at an elementary school lost their homes.
Stewart said his church decided that during the Christmas Eve service they will take up an offering allowing people to give whatever they want to help support the area around the Gatlinburg church. The Christmas Eve service will take place at 6 p.m.
Stewart said the church has helped other churches impacted by natural disaster.
When Hurricane Katrina struck, Stewart said, the church worked with two churches in Louisiana and delivered shipping containers filled with drywall and tools to hang drywall.
The church helped send box fans to a church in Estes Park, Colorado, in 2013 following major flooding.
“One of the things that I’ve learned about when there’s a disaster like that – particularly Hurricane Katrina – you can’t go to Lowe’s and get what you need because Lowe’s is gone, everything is gone,” Stewart said. “It’s many, many miles, maybe 100 miles, before the next store’s got anything and of course then everything around it is destroyed.”
For people who want to donate but are unable to attend the service, Stewart said they can mail a check to the First Christian Church, 113 Orange St., Urbana, OH 43078. He advised to mention Tennessee relief or Gatlinburg relief in the memo.
Stewart said people also can donate through the church’s website at http://www.urbanafcc.org under the giving section.
Along with trying to provide aid, Stewart said members of the church are praying for the church’s preacher, youth minister and their committee.
Nick Walton can be reached at 937-652-1331 Ext. 1777 or on Twitter @UDCWalton.