By Linda Unger*
April 12, 2013—The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) board of directors approved more than $8.6 million to be disbursed among annual (regional) conferences grappling with long-term disaster response to tornadoes, floods, and storms of 2011 and the wreckage left by Superstorm Sandy last fall.
All of the granted funds come from advances associated with UMCOR’s unit that covers disaster response in the United States, Latin America, and the Caribbean.
Of the total $8,667,759 approved today, more than $7,300,000 will support Sandy recovery in the New York, Greater New Jersey, and Peninsula-Delaware annual conferences. The amount includes nearly $870,000 set aside for the repair and rebuilding of churches and other houses of worship.
Warren Ferry of the New York Annual Conference represents The United Methodist Church in the long-term recovery group of Long Island Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (LIVOAD), a consortium of voluntary agencies seeking to bring relief to storm survivors on Long Island, NY.
“UMCOR and The United Methodist Church will have a significant impact on communities in need,” Ferry said about the significance of the grant approved for the New York Conference.
He said the funds will help nearly 800 of the most vulnerable survivors of Superstorm Sandy in Connecticut, Long Island, and the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Staten Island. Funds will be used for needs assessments, case management, volunteer coordination, spiritual and emotional care, direct assistance, and to repair, rebuild, and restore damaged homes.
In Greater New Jersey, Bobbie Ridgely, director of the conference’s Sandy Recovery Program, said the program would particularly seek to assist “the elderly, disabled, and low-income households whose insurance and other agency support does not cover all of the damages” inflicted by the storm.
The UMCOR grant will help the conference repair up to 500 homes and provide case management and counseling to more than 500 families over the course of several years, “to help children, youth, parents and other adults renew their hope and faith for the future,” Ridgely said.
Tomorrow, the UMCOR directors, along with UMCOR staff, will take up brooms and brushes in a day of service to help repair storm-damaged homes in two locales, one in New Jersey and one on Long Island.
At their meeting today, they earmarked an additional $500,000 for relief work in Cuba, where Hurricane Sandy damaged or destroyed more than 200,000 homes and 357 Methodist churches, many of them modest “house churches.”
Full recovery from Superstorm Sandy is expected to take years, a pattern the UMCOR directors understand well. At their board meeting today they also approved $1,300,000 for ongoing recovery efforts in response to a series of natural disasters that occurred in 2011.
Recovery continues in Alabama, North Carolina, and Upper New York
Among the severe weather events that year, 62 tornadoes touched down in a single day, April 27, in Alabama—three of them rated EF-5, the most severe. All told, they left 20,000 square miles of damage and took the lives of 250 people.
Near the same time, North Carolina also suffered a tornado outbreak, an event that was compounded four months later by Hurricane Irene. Between the two events, nearly 3,000 homes were totally destroyed and thousands of others damaged across the state.
Irene continued up the East Coast, and in the waning days of August provoked historic flooding and catastrophic damage in 13 counties of the Upper New York Conference. Tropical Storm Lee followed almost immediately and flooded 10 counties, some of them already inundated by Irene.
In all of these instances, much has been accomplished over the past two years, but disaster case management, home rebuilding and repair, spiritual and emotional care, and the coordination of volunteers and among voluntary agencies present ongoing needs. Destruction caused by these storms was pervasive, and recovery is still a work in progress.
“When we talk about long-term recovery, we really mean long-term,” said the Rev. Tom Hazelwood, UMCOR’s assistant general secretary for Disaster Response in the United States, Latin America, and the Caribbean.
“We have to pace the funds that are donated to us so that we can fund disaster recovery over the long haul,” he said. “This good stewardship allows us to serve the most vulnerable—and to have the resources to serve them—following a catastrophic event, for as long as their needs persist.”
Welcome Table of Minot, ND
In the rural town of Minot, ND (pop. 40,000), many of the people impacted by the flooding of summer 2011 have repaired their residences and returned home—no small feat when you consider the disaster affected a quarter of the town, including some 5,000 homes, churches, schools, and businesses.
But some of the most vulnerable persons—renters, elderly persons, and lower-income families—remain displaced. They need a home to live in, but also even more basic necessities—food and health care. They are among those who often are forgotten, hidden from view once a disaster fades from the national news.
Today, the UMCOR directors approved a grant of $200,000 to continue the response in Minot. Most of the grant comes from the Margaret Cargill Foundation fund, which supports disaster relief and recovery ministries.
It will support the Welcome Table, a collaborative and ecumenical effort of 10 Minot churches and service agencies to provide a place where these families and individuals in need can find food, clothing, and shelter—all under one roof.
“What a tremendous ministry!” Hazelwood exclaimed. “I’m very proud to be part of this special project. It will provide a long-term response to ongoing needs. It’s not a tent that’s going to fold up and go away.”
Read more, and help UMCOR remain present to those in need over the long haul as they recover from a disaster. Give to US Disaster Response, UMCOR Advance #901670.
*Linda Unger is senior writer for the General Board of Global Ministries.