NCC Receives $1.5 million To Rebuild Burned Churches
Mrs. Leona M. Helmsley, a prominent New York real estate owner and philanthropist, on May 28 presented a check for $1 million to the National Council of Churches to help rebuild churches burned for reasons of hate and to address the racism that underlies many of these attacks.
Further, Mrs. Helmsley promised an additional matching grant of $500,000 to the Fund. Her contribution is the largest the Fund has received from any individual donor since it was established in May 1996. The gift will benefit some 30 churches and support ecumenical racial justice and reconciliation programs through the NCC.
"Your gift, Mrs. Helmsley, will allow new life to come out of the ashes," said the Rev. Dr. Joan B. Campbell, NCC General Secretary, as she received the check at a news conference held in the (Episcopal) Cathedral of St. John the Divine.
Helmsley, who initiated the gift, said: "As someone who has dedicated so much of my life to the business of building, this destruction strikes me as the most heartless kind of outrage. For many people, these churches were buildings cherished even more dearly than their own homes. We must work together to build up a community around these churches which allows us all to worship with the freedom and security that is at the foundation of the American dream." The NCC-initiated Burned Churches Fund is supported by a broad ecumenical and interfaith community that includes Christian, Jewish and Muslim bodies.
With the $1 million from the Harry B. Helmsley Foundation (bearing the name of Mrs. Helmsley's late husband), cash contributions to the Fund now total about $8.5 million. To date, nearly $4.7 million in cash grants have been awarded to 82 burned churches. Most are African American churches across the U.S. Southeast.
Over 60 more churches have been identified as victims of racial hatred and are awaiting help, Dr. Campbell said, and Mrs. Helmsley's gift "will allow us to move ahead immediately with at least half" of them.
The Burned Churches Fund also has received $2.6 million in-kind donations (wood products, modular units and other articles), which it is allocating to burned churches. To date, 7,800 volunteers - deployed through the NCC-sponsored Church Rebuilding Project and its partners - have contributed labor valued at $780,000. Others are being called into service as more churches get ready to break ground.
Posted June 3, 1997
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