Across Montgomery County, members of churches, synagogues and other religious institutions are opening their wallets, and in some cases their homes, to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Religious organizations both big and small report raising thousands of dollars during services held on the two weekends since the hurricane devastated New Orleans and parts of the Gulf Coast.
In addition to raising money with special collections, bake sales and online drives, congregations are helping in other ways, including gathering donations of clothing and other supplies. Many are offering to help house hurricane victims and are planning to provide long-term assistance, according to members.
Some schools run by local churches and synagogues also are opening their doors to children displaced by the storm, often waiving tuition.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, which is in Rockville, has raised $573,620 from 2,003 donors for hurricane relief efforts, surpassing fundraising for last year's tsunami victims by $3,000, according to federation officials. The money is part of $5 million raised nationwide by the United Jewish Communities.
"So when you look at the total, this community has put forth 10 percent of what the national organization has raised," spokeswoman Barbara Sherbill said.
At St. John the Baptist Church in Silver Spring, parishioners contributed $52,247 during services on the weekend of Sept. 3 and 4. An additional $9,015 was raised last weekend, for a total of $61,262, according to the Rev. Francis Kazista.
"I was just amazed that we got that wonderful response. I'm very happy about the whole thing," said Kazista, adding that church officials had quickly printed envelopes for the unplanned collection and placed them in pews that first weekend.
More than 50 parishioners also have volunteered to house students from Xavier University in New Orleans who have been invited to attend Howard University, he said.
"People are just responding everywhere around you," Kazista said.
During a similar collection at St. Elizabeth Catholic Church in Rockville, parishioners filled offering baskets with about $34,000 during the past two weekends, according to pastoral associate Kathy Swartz.
All Catholic churches in the county are collecting for hurricane relief efforts, according to Susan Gibbs, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Washington. She said that 100 percent of the donations will be used by Catholic Charities USA and dioceses in the affected areas to aid hurricane victims and rebuilding efforts.
Officials of all faiths say they will continue the collections indefinitely but also are exploring other ways to help what they recognize will be a long-term recovery effort. Some are planning to send teams from their congregations in coming months to help with rebuilding efforts.
"As long as people want to donate, it's an ongoing thing," said Jerry Orrell, administrative assistant at the First Baptist Church of Silver Spring.
At St. Paul's United Methodist Church in Kensington, parishioners are putting together health kits of personal-hygiene items and flood buckets full of cleaning supplies that will be distributed to hurricane victims by the United Methodist Committee on Relief. The church also has raised $15,000.
The Muslim Community Center in Silver Spring has collected $5,400 from its members and plans to continue collections for two more weeks, according to center volunteer Gulam Contractor.
At the Unitarian Universalist Church of Rockville, church officials are working on "how to help place families, take families in," in addition to collecting the $7,000 raised so far, said the Rev. Lynn Strauss.
Officials there are leaning toward joining with other Unitarian churches to rent an apartment so that a displaced family can have the privacy it needs, she said. The churches would pay for the apartment for one year with parishioners' donations.
While Strauss is pleased to see her congregation's willingness to provide immediate assistance for the hurricane victims, she noted that the catastrophe has helped put a spotlight on the need to help the poor no matter where they live.
"There are plenty of people right now in Montgomery County and in D.C. who need this kind of help," she said. "Even though we will feel that we already do a lot to help the poor, I feel this is going to spur the need" to do more.
At St. Elizabeth, church officials are trying to temper parishioners' urge to add to the massive flow of non-monetary donations being sent south by stressing the need to think about how the church can continue to help in the coming months.
"They've been hugely generous and everybody would like to do something more than just finances, but we're encouraging them that there's going to be a long-term need," Swartz said.
Officials are working with a parishioner who may be able to provide up to 50 seasonal jobs for displaced people. The church could then adopt the families and provide housing for them, she said.
Today, nearly 40 members of Global Vessels, based at Emmanuel Brinklow Seventh-day Adventist Church in Ashton, are scheduled to fly to Houston, where the volunteer doctors, social workers, counselors and others will stay several days to help the evacuees.
On Friday, the Rev. William Finch, pastor of St. Raphael's Catholic Church in Rockville, who had traveled to Houston hoping to persuade 50 evacuees to come back with him, returned with 25 people who will be living with parishioners.
As they continue planning and brainstorming on ways to help, religious leaders were quick to praise the generosity of their congregations and people across the country.
"Another amazing thing to come out of the darkness is that we have the resources to take care of everyone and they're pouring forth," Strauss said.