Trinity of partners benefits Puerto Rican church Responding to dire repair needs after 2017’s Hurricane Maria, a 14-member mission team from New Hanover UMC in Gilbertsville and Lampeter UMC in Lancaster, went to Puerto Rico for a week in April, to assist a partner church there, Villa Fontana Methodist Church in Carolina. They replaced its roof and repaired its bell tower.

The mission began with New Hanover’s Christmas offering last December, which eventually raised over $90,000 for Puerto Rico, where the church’s new pastor, the Rev Jose “Ricky” Ayala, is from. Over 30 churches were severely damaged by the historic storm.

Four volunteers from Lampeter UMC were also inspired to go by one of their church members, Armando Iraheta, who attended Villa Fontana as a youth in Puerto Rico. He shared his memories and emotions with fellow Lampeter members.

The church plans to send another team there in November. New Hanover also sent a youth mission group to work at the church in June.

Conference, churches helping Puerto Rico ‘rise again’

Both the Eastern PA Conference and several local churches are responding to the ongoing critical needs caused by Hurricane Maria’s devastation of Puerto Rico a year ago in September.

The has conference raised over $96,000 from districts, churches and individuals for its Helping Puerto Rico Rise Again campaign. The goal was $100,000. Now churches are being asked to receive a special love offering on any Sunday, Sept. 16-30, to aid the island’s recovery. The dates align with the start of National Hispanic/Latino Heritage Month, which runs Sept. 15 to October 15.

The offering was approved by the Annual Conference in June. All funds will be shared with the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico (MCPR) to support its recovery and restoration efforts among struggling churches and communities.

Meanwhile, the Rev. Nick Camacho, project manager for our conference’s response to Puerto Rico’s crisis, will lead a Volunteers in Mission (VIM) team of nine lay and clergy members from various churches to his native island to do recovery work there Nov. 3-10. This first Eastern PA Conference work team may focus on restoring homes and churches in the Northeast region, supervised by UMCOR (UM Committee on Relief) and MCPR leaders and assisted by church members.

“This will be a great opportunity for us to make a crucial difference in people’s lives—people who are still hurting but also are still hopeful,” said Camacho, who is also recruiting more teams to work on the island next year.

Helping local, resettled Puerto Rican evacuees

And thanks to a $10,000 emergency grant from UMCOR, Robert Simcox, conference Coordinator of Disaster Response, has purchased and provided 12 beds to Puerto Rican evacuees now living in Reading and Philadelphia. He said the families had moved from temporary shelters into apartments but were sleeping on floors and air mattresses.

Simcox works closely with the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Administration (PEMA) and the PA Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters (VOAD). Nearly 1,500 Puerto Rican evacuee households, with more than 3,400 members, had applied for FEMA disaster assistance in Pennsylvania by June, second only to New York in the Northeast. Other needs are being explored, and churches—especially Latino churches—are being urged to welcome and assist recent evacuees in their communities.