The Lodi area is pouring out its heart — and pocketbook — to help people devastated by last week's earthquake in Haiti. And local churches are among the most active in the relief effort.
"We feel that as Christians, it's an obligation to help those in need," said Pastor Bill Cummins, of Bear Creek Community Church. "The Bible is real clear on teaching this truth. Jesus commanded us to help those in need."
Pastor Jeff Carl, of the new Bayside Church in Galt, made the tragedy in Haiti his sermon topic on Sunday, asking the congregation to contribute money toward the Haiti relief effort and explaining God's role in the tragedy.
"People ask if (the earthquake) is an act of God. Uh-uh," Carl said during the service. "God's in the midst of healing. God is there in the midst of this tragedy."
Churches throughout the area took special collections during their weekend services to help with the relief effort. And some got some unexpected contributions.
"We had someone just walk in off the street with a check for $200 for that noble work," Associate Pastor Kevin Suess, of Vinewood Community Church, said. "Although $200 is a drop in the bucket compared to the need, it will be used to help some in that devastated city."
The contribution came after the donor read a listing of where contributions can be made in Thursday's News-Sentinel, Suess said.
Meanwhile, Bear Creek collected $6,000 during Sunday's two services, Emanuel Lutheran Church in Lodi added $3,000 and First Baptist in Galt reported $600 in contributions, according to pastors who reported on Monday how much they collected.
The Deshmesh Darbar Sikh Temple in south Lodi hopes to collect up to $10,000 by this weekend, temple Vice President Kuldip Dhatt said. The temple collected only about $2,400 on Sunday because of the smaller crowd due to the rainy weather, she added.
And the Lodi Muslim Mosque plans to take a collection at Friday's prayer service, which gets the highest turnout of the week, mosque President Khan Afsar said.
Mosque leaders will talk in the next couple of days about where the money should be forwarded to do the greatest benefit for Haiti, Afsar said.
Dhatt, from the Sikh temple, said she is exploring reputable organizations, including some Christian-based groups, to send contributions from the Lodi temple.
"I want to make sure the money is going to the right place," Dhatt said.
Churches of several faiths in Lodi and Galt are relying on World Vision, which they said is a highly respected and credible organization that does a lot of good for disaster victims and third-world countries.
Several churches are sending their members' contributions to World Vision — Bear Creek in Lodi and Horizon, Family Life and Bayside churches in Galt.
Some churches are sending their contributions to relief organizations within their own denomination, such as the Methodists, Episcopalians, Lutherans, North American Baptists and Southern Baptists.
Looking to help? Here's how— The Red Cross is accepting text messages of "Haiti" to 90999 to donate $10 to the Red Cross, as well as accepting donations sent to 1550 W. Fremont St., Stockton, CA 95203 or on the chapter Web site, www.sanjoaquincounty.redcross.org. (The San Joaquin chapter of the American Red Cross will conduct an orientation on Thursday from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at 747 N. Pershing Ave., Stockton. More information can be found by calling 466-6971.
— World Vision, www.worldvision.org. Several area churches are giving to this group.
— Mennonite Central Committee, www.mcc.org. Vinewood Community Church in Lodi is a member.
— United Methodist Committee on Relief, www.tinyurl.com/ybolpjh. First United Methodist Church in Lodi and Galt United Methodist Church are members. Write "UMCOR" on the memo line of checks.
— The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, www.give.lds.org/emergencyresponse.
— Islamic Relief USA, www.islamicrelief.org, phone (888) 479-4968, or mail a check to Islamic Relief USA, P.O. Box 5640, Buena Park, CA 90622.
— Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, www.elca.org/haitiearthquake. St. Paul and Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran churches will give to this organization.
— Lutheran World Relief, www.lwr.org. The organization gives 91.7 percent of every dollar received directly to the relief effort, said Pastor Chris Townsend of Emanuel Lutheran Church. "That is an amazingly low overhead and great stewardship by this Lutheran organization," Townsend said.
— Assemblies of God, www.ag.org/top/haiti.cfm. Century Assembly in Lodi and two Galt churches, New Hope Assembly of God and Mars Hill, are members.
— Episcopal Relief and Development, www.er-d.org. St. John's Episcopal Church in Lodi and St. Luke's in Galt are members.
Additionally, all Catholic churches in the Stockton Diocese, including St. Anne's in Lodi, St. Joachim's in Lockeford and St. Michael's in Morada, are accepting donations. Bishop Stephen Blaire asked all parishes to take a collection this weekend.
Emanuel Lutheran Church will collect a second offering on Sunday, and St. Paul Lutheran will collect for several weeks.
Only give to credible organizationsProsecutors are warning San Joaquin County residents to check out organizations before donating to the Haiti earthquake relief effort.
During major disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, countless groups raise money to help — and inevitably some groups try to profit from it. Sometimes scammers also get personal information from those who donate and then steal and use their identities.
To make sure money really goes to the victims, donate directly to legitimate organizations, said Suzanne Schultz, family crimes coordinator for the San Joaquin County District Attorney's Office.
She also suggested that donors verify the charity group by going online to www.give.org, which is part of the Better Business Bureau, or www.charitynavigator.org. That site currently has a list of legitimate groups that are raising money for Haiti, and it also has more suggestions on how to help.
Do not give personal or financial information to people who solicit contributions, Schultz said. She also warned that an e-mailed link to a charity group isn't always legitimate. Instead, go directly to that charity's Web site rather than clicking on links.
For more information, call the District Attorney's elder fraud line at 468-2488.
The FBI and the National Center for Disaster Fraud have established a hotline to report suspected Haitian earthquake relief fraud. The number is (866) 720-5721, which is staffed by a live operator 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can also e-mail information to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information, visit www.fbi.gov/pressrel/pressrel10/haiti011810.htm.
Source: San Joaquin County District Attorney's Office, FBI
First Baptist Church in Lodi will send its contributions from Sunday to the North American Baptist Conference, which has some churches in south Florida that have helped churches in Haiti, Pastor Steve Newman said.
Pastors say that contributing toward disaster relief is one way to lead a Christian life.
"We have done our best to teach how blessed the American church is over the last few months," said Rick Keiser, pastor of Family Life Christian Church in Galt. "We truly have a lot. Our 'neighbors' overseas have very little, so we must learn to disperse 'our' belongings better."
In addition to taking an offering on Sunday, Family Life will send a portion of its members' Christmas offering toward Haiti relief, Keiser said.
Other pastors' actions and comments on why one should help Haiti financially:
Larry Groves, First Baptist Church of Galt: "The message of the Gospel is that Christ loves us and laid down His life for us, and we must lay down our lives for all those who live in a hurting and dying world so that they may know God's love."
Chris Townsend, Emanuel Lutheran Church, Lodi: Will send contributions from Sunday to Lutheran World Relief.
Mark Price, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Lodi: Will collect offerings "for weeks to come." Contributions will be sent to the Lutheran World Foundation and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America disaster relief organization.
Helen Mansfield, Galt United Methodist Church: "We are currently doing a a series called 'Start … Being a Good Samaritan,' which is based on the parable of the Good Samaritan. So we do what we do, contributing time, resources and gifts, because the core of Christianity is found in that whole story. … You can't love God without loving your neighbor, and when you love your neighbor, you are loving God. And love is a participatory sport, not a spectator sport."
Sunday's offering will go to the United Methodist Committee on Relief "because they have a stellar reputation among relief agencies for getting the money straight into the communities that need help, and they have a very long-term way of looking at relief."
Harold Clinehens, St. John's Episcopal Church, Lodi: "The Episcopal Church has a wonderful organization called Episcopal Relief and Development, and within the first 12 hours after the (earthquake), there was something special on the front page of their Web site, www.er-d.org."