Volunteers from Christ Church United Methodist in New York repair a roof damaged by winds from Hurricane Katrina in Biloxi, Mississippi, in 2007.
By Klay S. Williams*
August 23, 2012—For many of us, there are events in our lifetime that we will never forget. Natural disasters often leave their mark, even when we experience them vicariously. The earthquake in Haiti in 2010, the tsunami that leveled parts of Indonesia in 2004, these are, perhaps, among those major catastrophes that have left an indelible memory of where we were at the moment of impact.
Hurricane Katrina is another.
Seven years ago, on August 23, 2005, one of the deadliest storms the United States has ever experienced would form over the Bahamas and begin traveling along the US Gulf Coast, wreaking havoc for residents of the region.
We responded to Katrina with heartfelt prayers, tears, monetary donations, and volunteering spirits. For United Methodists and many other people of goodwill, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) was honored to serve as a channel for their desire to help.
“UMCOR received almost 67 million dollars and over the last 7 years, monetary efforts have gone towards rebuilding the Gulf coast,” shares Rev. Tom Hazelwood, assistant general secretary of UMCOR’s US Disaster Response.
“We have now distributed all the funds we received,” Hazelwood says. Those funds supported recovery work in Louisiana and Mississippi and in communities across the United States that were impacted in the wake of the storm.
UMCOR could not have fulfilled its long-term commitment to Hurricane Katrina survivors without the many volunteers who worked tirelessly alongside the agency.
“Volunteers are the heartbeat of The United Methodist Church,” Hazelwood underscores. “They are not only the hands and feet that do much of the work, but the prime generators of the funds that get raised. If they are excited about their experience, they go back to tell their story, raise more money, and help us expand our efforts.”
Hazelwood says the efforts by volunteers in response to Hurricane Katrina have given him a fond memory he will continue to reflect upon as he moves forward in ministry. “Relationships built between the volunteers who helped and the individuals in need were amazing. Survivors were amazed at how the church reached out to them in their hour of need,” he says.
UMCOR's work following Katrina also helped the organization to grow. “While the lessons are still playing out,” Hazelwood says, “we are reevaluating such things as the effectiveness of our training, how to work with individual clients, and how to better take care of volunteers. We also learned that an effective disaster response really takes teamwork, including all voluntary agencies, resources, and the government all working together.”
Seven years later, Hurricane Katrina survivors are still reshaping their lives—many of them in the light of the hope lit for them by UMCOR and The United Methodist Church. Hazelwood concludes, “I never cease to be amazed, as we the church respond to where there is need.”
Your gift to US Disaster Response, UMCOR Advance #901670 will help UMCOR prepare church and community members to respond to needs in the aftermath of a disaster.
*Klay S. Williams is a writer and contributor to www.umcor.org.