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Penn church again aids flood victims

| Saturday, Dec. 25, 2010

On the night of June 19, 2009, as heavy rain swelled creeks and rivers, Penn Lutheran Church opened its doors to flood refugees, firefighters and other first responders.

Nearly 40 people -- some with their pets -- took shelter at the church building for the night as flooding wreaked havoc throughout Westmoreland County, gushing into homes and washing away roads and bridges. One of the three hardest-hit communities was Penn Borough.

"Our whole basement was totally submerged," said Terri Baker, who lives in her childhood home on Church Street. "It was all the way to the rafters. It looked like a river came flying down into our basement. There was nothing we could do. There was no stopping it."

Water damaged the furnace, hot-water tank, ductwork and her husband's car, which was parked on the street. Baker said the family had to take out a loan to repair the two-story frame home.

Now, church members have come to the rescue again, giving three borough families who lost the most in the floods cash donations this holiday season to help offset their losses.

"This help has been tremendous," Baker said. "We weren't planning to pay for another car. We were taking money away from things we had allocated it for."

In 2009, Penn Lutheran Church had established an account with its sister congregation, Zion Lutheran Church in Harrison City, to collect donations for flood relief and raised $3,680. Some church members wanted to keep helping.

"Once the word got out there was going to be no federal money, I think that sparked the idea that we need to do something for our community," said Ed Grant, a member of Penn Lutheran Church and a manager for Penn Township Ambulance Service. "It may not have been a need regionally, but it was a need individually in the neighborhood."

Grant said a notice they posted at the Penn Post Office that money was available got little response, so the church sought out people to assist.

Pastor Roger Steiner said the money is intended to help the families recover losses such as furnaces and hot-water tanks.

"One family still had a few things they hadn't replaced," Steiner said. "This will help them do that."

Significant donations came from DeLallo Distributing, several Penn-Zion parishioners, members of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and a matching fund "Care in Communities" grant of $600 from Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, Southwest Pennsylvania Chapter 30723.

Mark Enick and his family benefited from the church members' generosity.

Damage to the Enicks' house on South Carbon Street was so severe that he and his wife, Kelly, and son Wade, 3, couldn't live there for two months.

"There was water all the way to the first floor," Enick said. "It was just mud everywhere. You could just see it was 8 inches (of water) on the first floor. I lost freezers, a furnace, hot-water tank."

A state employee at the time, he wasn't drawing a paycheck because lawmakers were struggling to adopt a budget. Enick said he depleted his savings account in a month's time, paying for repairs.

"It wasn't expected," he said of the holiday gift from the church. "It was a real blessing. I just put the money back into the bank and built up our savings again. ... I never imagined something that bad (could happen)."

Grant said the church group decided to wait until now to donate the money to see who was most in need.

"Even though they were placed in a burden of financial debt, we were able to make an impact," he said.

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