Disaster relief needs grow; so does ‘response of God’s people’

By John W. Coleman

“Harvey was a powerful storm, but we have witnessed the great power of God in the response of God’s people.” Those words by the Rev. Kendell Waller, Rio Texas Conference Director of Finance and Administration, are bearing true witness in the response of donors, volunteers and many prayers, especially among members of the United Methodist Connection.

Early response teams trained by UMCOR (UM Committee on Relief) are beginning to assess and address urgent needs following the epic storm that brought unprecedented flooding and destruction to Houston and other communities in South Texas and southwestern Louisiana. With coordination, they will lead the relief phase of the disaster recovery process, which includes safely removing debris, securing homes, and stabilizing structures damaged in the storm.

But many volunteers from the area and from neighboring states and communities are also involved in staffing emergency shelters, delivering supplies, sheltering people in need and helping relocate evacuees.

Meanwhile, donors’ dollars pour into UMCOR’s Disaster Relief fund, and flood buckets and hygiene kits fill up trucks headed to mission depots to be shipped to the area. UMCOR’s relief supply network has 133,000 hygiene kits and 20,000 cleaning kits in the pipeline. Many more are needed.

According to Federal Emergency Management Administration officials, over 300,000 Texans have registered for assistance, thousands of homes are feared to have been destroyed and flood waters are still rising. UMCOR disaster recovery grants have been issued to the Texas and the Rio Texas Annual Conferences.

Fifteen UM churches in the Texas Conference are serving as shelters. Churches and members of the Louisiana Conference, still responding to massive flooding from 2016, are trying to reach out and help people affected by the new flooding.

Recovery and rehabilitation from Harvey will take years and many more donations and volunteer work teams. Yet, a more powerful hurricane has battered tiny Caribbean islands with incredible winds, wreaking great havoc. Irma, downgraded to a category 4 storm on Friday, is heading toward Florida and other Southeastern states, prompting urgent preparations and mass evacuations.

“We are requesting the United Methodist Church for your prayers and your solidarity during this difficult time,” Methodist Bishop Héctor Ortiz Vidal of Puerto Rico wrote to Thomas Kemper, head of the UMC’s Global Ministries last week. About a hundred churches on the island and St. Croix were advised to prepare as best they could for catastrophic damage. “Knowing that people outside of our area are praying for us gives us faith and courage,” wrote Vidal.

Meanwhile, the Rev. Greg Ellis, Eastern PA Conference’s Disaster Response & Volunteers in Ministry Coordinator, reports that while much attention is rightfully focused on Harvey’s victims, there are grave needs from past disasters in the Northeastern Jurisdiction that still need attention from local work teams.

“Harvey’s damage will take years to recover from, and Texas will not be ready to receive teams for a while; but we do not need to travel to Texas to help,” said Ellis, following an UMCOR conference call with other conference disaster response coordinators.

“We have opportunities to serve close to home. We cannot forget about the people affected one month ago, one year ago, and even longer. They offer us opportunities to serve right now. It would take four days to drive to South Texas with a tool trailer and supplies. Depending on where you live in the conference, it would take four hours to get to these locations.”

Here are some disaster recovery locations in the NEJ where help is much needed:

West Virginia

West Virginia needs UMVIM teams!  West Virginia experienced flooding in August 2016 and in July of this year. UMCOR recently released a $500,000 grant to WV to assist in disaster case management, construction coordination, supplies and materials. The goal is to help at least 120 families in the next two years.  Go to
http://wvumc.org/About/Ministries/Disaster-Response for all the information you need to donate or volunteer.

New Jersey

A Future with Hope is still working with what remains of a $3.16 million grant from UMCOR to continue recovery from the 2012 Hurricane Sandy. There are many homes in Atlantic County that still need volunteer teams. In many cases these are people who were swindled by contractors in the immediate aftermath of the storm and have now recovered their funds.  The more teams, the further the grant money stretches and the more families we can help!  Register here or join one of our existing teams.

New York

The NYAC Sandy Recovery ministry is still looking for “Done in a Day” teams to complete projects in Connecticut and in Brooklyn/Queens. If you are interested please contact Gina Grubbs, Volunteer Coordinator at sandyrecovery@nyac-umc.com, or Tom Vencuss at tvencuss@nyac.com.  There is also a great need for rental and mortgage assistance for those still displaced from their homes.

Connellsville, Pennsylvania

The Connellsville Flood Recovery Center still has active recovery cases in the aftermath of flooding in late August 2016. Many homes will need volunteers to do repair and rebuilding work. Housing and hospitality is available for teams wishing to serve for multiple days or up to one week, although sending one-day teams has been the most common practice. Volunteers can register online at https://connellsvillevolunteers.org/2016/09/08/how-to-volunteer/ or email volunteer@wpaumc.org.

More information about UMCOR:

One of the most respected disaster relief agencies in operation today, UMCOR has been making a difference in the world since 1940. One hundred percent of every dollar donated to UMCOR goes to relief and recovery services, earning the agency top ratings from Charity Navigator, America’s largest independent charity watchdog organization. UMCOR is a long-standing member of National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD) and other similar organizations. Learn more at http://www.umcor.org/umcor/resources/news-stories/2017/august/0825umcorrespondstoharvey  and donate at

https://secure3.convio.net/gbgm/site/SPageNavigator/umcor_donate.html?type=1002&project=901670.

“Donations to UMCOR empower local early response teams to do what they need to do, when they need to do it, when safe,” said Catherine G. Earl, Director of Disaster Response and U.S. Partner Relations for UMCOR. “People often say that UMCOR is ‘first in, last out’. Our work is made possible only by generous contributions from the people of The United Methodist Church and friends of UMCOR.”