Faith-based disaster relief

Farmville Enterprise September 20, 2017

When the rubber meets the road, in the midst of tragedy, our country is much more united than what is often portrayed. Reports from Texas and Florida, like reports after September 11 and Hurricane Katrina, show an overwhelming response of help and even heroism. Story after story of rescues and aid demonstrate that, when it counts, most people are not looking at what divides us but are seeing others in need and responding graciously. Coordinated efforts by Christian disaster relief organizations are front and center.

On Sept. 10 USA Today published an article by Paul Singer entitled “Faith groups provide the bulk of disaster recovery, in coordination with FEMA.” Here are some excepts.

“’About 80% of all recovery happens because of non-profits, and the majority of them are faith-based,’ said Greg Forrester, CEO of the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster. The money is ‘all raised by the individuals who go and serve, raised through corporate connections, raised through church connections,’ and amounts to billions of dollars worth of disaster recovery assistance, he said.”

“FEMA can not do what it does so well without the cooperation of faith-based non-profit organizations and churches,” said the Rev. Jamie Johnson, director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Center for Faith-Based & Neighborhood Partnerships. ‘It’s a beautiful relationship between government and the private sector and it is something to behold.’

FEMA does not assign work to the state agencies or the faith-based groups, Johnson said, but ‘we affirm the work that they are already doing … FEMA brings the groups into its national command center to work with us because they have their people on the ground.’”

In response to Hurricane Katrina, 47,815,000 meals were distributed through the Catholic Charities of New Orleans. 5,668,226 hot meals were served by Salvation Army volunteers. 22,000 survivors received free medical services from Episcopal Relief and Development. 280 families received long-term housing from Nazarene Compassionate Ministries.

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR), the third largest relief organization after the Red Cross and Salvation Army, channeled at least $40 million into relief, not including the value of millions of volunteer hours after Katrina. They had over 600 mobile units, more than 30,000 trained volunteers and were well-equipped and trained for mass feeding, water purification, debris removal, chain saw work, childcare and counseling. As of 2015 SBDR had 65,000 trained volunteers and 1,550 mobile units.  Presbyterian Disaster Assistance channeled $24.8 million in aid post-Katrina. They started “volunteer villages” which were self-sufficient encampments for volunteers that remained occupied for four years after the disaster and distributed over 18,000 response kits. The United Church of Christ/Disciples of Christ channeled over six million dollars into relief after the 2005 hurricanes and sent groups to rebuild and repair homes. The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) raised nearly $70 million after Katrina and helped over 300,000 survivors with water, food, shelter and clothing. UMCOR organizes the assembly of cleaning buckets and health kits to be distributed after a disaster and currently has over 20,000 trained volunteers for disaster relief.

We can be encouraged by the tremendous response to our sisters and brothers in need in Texas and Florida and should be sure to do our part. “Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” (Romans 12: 13) “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)

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