Views of a home in Everglades City following damage from by Hurricane Irma. Photo by Kathleen Barry, UMNS

Disaster relief update: Donations sent; relief teams needed now

Eastern PA Conference Treasurer James Brown reports that he sent about $135,000 in disaster relief donations from the Eastern PA Conference to UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) last week.

More than $8 million has been raised through the Advance for U.S. Disaster Response since the beginning of this record-breaking hurricane season in August, reports Cathy Earl, UMCOR’s Director of Disaster Response and U.S. Partner Relations. That’s when devastating Hurricane Harvey became the first major hurricane to make landfall in the U.S. in 12 years.

The Rev. Laura Ice, recovery co-ordinator for the Florida Conference, listens intently to school principal, Jim Ragusa, tell about Hurricane Irma’s damage to Everglades City, Fla. Photo by Kathleen Barry, UMNS

“We know this recovery will be long and expensive, so your donations really make a difference!” The funds will be distributed to aid recovery from hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, as well as wildfires in the West

Moreover, Amy Fuselier, Director of UMCOR’s Relief Supply Network, has felt “overwhelmed by the response from local churches to the call for hurricane and flood relief supplies this fall.” Texas and Florida have been fully supplied with cleaning buckets and hygiene kits.

“There are 28,000 cleaning kits in the warehouse right now awaiting delivery to Puerto Rico when that becomes possible,” she said. “For the time being, do not begin any new collections of relief supplies. Once more kits have been delivered, there will be space in the warehouse to hold more.”

Disaster relief funds sent by the Eastern PA Conference—including about $118,000 from churches and about $16,000 from individuals—were received in the Treasurer’s Office as of Sept. 30. More donations are coming in, while an unknown amount of donations have been sent to UMCOR directly by churches and individuals across the conference.

Meanwhile, both the Florida and Texas annual conferences have announced an immediate need for recovery work teams right away.  All volunteers will be accepted, even those without regardless of Early Response Team (ERT) training. Individuals and teams are encouraged to register to be deployed in the southern part of both states.

In the  Texas Annual Conference–primarily in the Houston and northern Gulf Coast areas, teams have mucked out and gutted more than, 6000 homes. But they are still finding communities where the damage has not been assessed. “In the Texas Conference, you don’t see damage until you begin to open people’s doors,” said Bishop Scott Jones. “Then your heart breaks.”

Volunteers should be over age 18 and Safe Sanctuaries-certified, with at least one team member ERT-trained. “We need help immediately,” said Scott Moore, Conference Disaster Response Coordinator. Learn more…

Early Response Teams provide a caring, Christian presence in the aftermath of a disaster. These teams are neither first-response emergency workers nor rebuilding or repair teams. Rather, they fill specific needs just after a disaster, including cleaning flood-damaged homes, removing debris, placing protective tarps and preventing further property damage.

The Rio Texas Conference (Corpus Christi and southern Gulf Coast areas) is taking ERTs for approximately another six weeks, while accepting reservations for Long-Term Recovery  teams after that. (There are two different registration links; so be sure to use the correct one.)  Additionally, they are looking for individuals willing to volunteer for longer periods of time to do site management and volunteer coordination.  Contact Eugene Hileman ( if you can help with this ministry. Learn more…

In Florida and the Caribbean, Hurricane Irma survivors are still in recovery mode and Hurricane Maria survivors are still assessing the damage. Estimates are that it will take five years for Florida to recover from Hurricane Irma’s damage.  Many areas were already deluged with rain from Hurricane Harvey before Hurricane Irma made landfall Sept. 10 at two different locations and spread across the state. The floods that followed Irma provided the knockout punch.

“Basically, we had a flood, a hurricane and a flood,” said the Rev. C.J. Hill, pastor of First United Methodist Church of Bonita Springs. Learn more… Also, read Serving 600 meals to first responders. (Hurricane Irma volunteer registration.)

Meanwhile Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands may face the harshest path to recovery. They are still in a government-controlled emergency relief phase and not yet ready for volunteer teams to go in.  But UMCOR is releasing grants to Puerto Rico quickly and talking daily with the Methodist Bishop and other church leaders on the island. Staff expect to travel there soon to plan relief and recovery efforts.

(Also, says the Rev. Greg Ellis, Eastern PA Conference Disaster Response Coordinator, “We need to keep information out there about the need for teams to respond to the West Virginia flooding, too.” That need for recovery help in about eight badly hit West Virginia counties is getting lost in the overwhelming news from the last three catastrophic storms.)

Do you or members of your church want disaster response training for preparation to help survivors? A variety of training opportunities are available this month and in November in the neighboring Baltimore-Washington Conference, just hours away.

Volunteers in Mission (VIM) Leader Training will be held Saturday, Oct. 21, 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 PM, at the conference’s Mission Resource Center, 11711 E Market Pl, Fulton, MD. The training, led by the Rev. Joan Carter Rimbach, costs $10. VIM provides people with the opportunity to be short-term missionaries. Volunteers go out in teams to do construction and spiritual formation projects for people and places in need. They are people of all different skill levels, serving as the hands and eyes of Christ. Learn more and register.

Early Response Team (ERT) refresher training, for people whose previous ERT training badges have expired, will be held Saturday, Oct. 21, 1:30 to 5:30 PM, also at the Mission Resource Center in Fulton. During the class, participants will learn important aspects of disaster spiritual and emotional care, organizational structure for the relief stage, team safety, ERT protocols and safe sanctuaries.

The cost for the training, to be led by the Rev. Jay DeMent, is $25. Learn more and register.

Other upcoming trainings:

There are also Early Response Team training events scheduled in November in the Western PA Conference.  For more information visit the NEJ UMVIM website.

Also, the Rev. Larry Potts of the Greater New Jersey Conference composed a litany to share with churches in response to this fall’s several tragedies involving hurricanes and gun violence. Download Prayer Litany for Our Time, October 2017.  And view Hurricane Irma Disaster Response 2017 photos and a related slideshow with music, United Methodists respond to Hurricane Irma.

Read Standing in Solidarity with Puerto Rico, and donate to UMCOR hurricane relief: Advance #901670.