Bush, Clinton Commission Pastors to Head Inter-Faith Katrina Relief Fund

With churches straining their supplies and funds to assist in the devastation that Hurricane Katrina had left behind, former U.S. presidents have commissioned two renowned church leaders to aid the local churches and religious organizations through the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund.

A grant of $20 million from the more than $100 million collected contributions was recently allocated for ministerial partnership with local and regional faith-based organizations.

The "Inter-Faith Katrina Relief Fund" is being co-chaired by Bishop T.D. Jakes, dubbed America's Best Pastor by TIME in 2001, and the Rev. William H. Gray III, who served as the highest ranking African-American U.S. congressman.

"We have been commissioned by former Presidents Bush and Clinton to aid pastors and religious leaders who were adversely affected by Hurricane Katrina," said Jakes, senior pastor of the 30,000-member The Potter's House in Dallas, in a radio announcement.

The Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund was listed as receiving the fourth largest share of donations for hurricane relief efforts, according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy's latest report. Close to $2.8 billion have been raised among charities and other groups for the victims of Katrina, Rita, and Wilma.

"In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, local and national churches and religious organizations were tremendously helpful in providing for the needs of the people of the Gulf Coast, but at extreme financial strain," said former President Bill Clinton in a released statement earlier this month.

"We need to make sure these organizations can continue to provide their necessary services to the community," added former President George H.W. Bush, "and that they are not punished for doing such important work."

The two pastors commissioned by Bush and Clinton held a meeting this past weekend bringing together faith leaders from across the Gulf Coast region to discuss ways to apportion the grant.

"America needs these brave men and women back in their pulpits where they can proactively benefit their communities," Jakes said. "This fund will create an opportunity for these men and women to return to rebuilding their own communities and provide others with hope and inspiration."

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for spiritual leaders around the country to activate their faith and let their needs be known," said Gray, former president and CEO of NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and currently pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church in Philadelphia, in a released statement. "We have an opportunity to influence where this money is allocated. There has never been a more important time to put our collective faith into action than now as we help equip our spiritual leaders to get back to the work of the Gospel."

The Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund is providing $30 million in grants to Gulf Region higher education institutions devastated by Katrina and an initial $40 million among the three states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama for recovery and relief works.