United Methodist Committee on Relief

UMCOR Hurricane Response Points to the Power of Local Partnership

By Tom Gillem*

When disaster occurs – whether it is a hurricane, tornado, wildfire or other natural or human-made calamity – the United Methodist Committee on Relief is there to help people recover from the catastrophe and put their lives back together.

As the humanitarian relief and development arm of The United Methodist Church, UMCOR partners with annual conferences to train volunteers from local congregations to be disaster responders and then provides grants for direct support, goods or services to survivors.

In 2018, Hurricane Florence caused catastrophic flooding in portions of South Carolina and North Carolina during the Atlantic hurricane season. A month after Florence, Hurricane Michael, the strongest hurricane on record to strike the Florida Panhandle, caused catastrophic damage to Florida before raging through Georgia, South Carolina and parts of North Carolina. Three devastating major hurricanes made landfall in 2017 – Harvey in Texas; Irma in the Caribbean and southeastern U.S.; and Maria in the Caribbean and Puerto Rico.

Hurricane infographic.jpg

To respond to needs arising from U.S. hurricanes in 2017 and 2018, UMCOR approved the following grants:

  • Hurricane Harvey - 14 grants totaling $15,083,849 and targeting 12,903 people
  • Hurricane Irma - four grants totaling $9,060,300 and targeting 5,760 people
  • Hurricane Maria - 17 grants totaling $22,097,001 and targeting 19,416 people
  • Hurricane Hermine - two grants totaling $475,000 and targeting 1,860 people
  • Hurricane Florence - four grants totaling $1,922,886 (two solidarity grants to help with immediate relief of suffering through initial financial support to the conferences, and two recovery grants to provide long-term support to the individuals through larger, more developed projects within the conferences)
  • Hurricane Matthew - eight grants totaling $3,608,164 and targeting 5,825 people
  • Hurricane Michael - four grants totaling $842,039

Preparedness through Partnerships

Cathy Earl, director of disaster response and U.S. partner relations for UMCOR, said The UMC’s response to disasters like hurricanes begins before the events occur. “We were in touch with the conference disaster response coordinators, who are our primary contacts in disaster readiness and response,” Earl said. “They have already been trained and supported, and they know where their assets are around the conference.”

The assets often include shower trailers and tool trailers, but also district disaster response coordinators and others, relief supplies, warehouses and housing for volunteers.

IMG_2199.JPGThrough an UMCOR solidarity grant, a generator for a shower trailer was provided for those affected by Hurricane Michael in the Florida panhandle.
Pictured are Rev. Durwood Foshee (center) and Pam Garrison (left).
Credit: Cathy Earl

“Conference disaster response coordinators in North Carolina and South Carolina, in anticipation of Hurricane Florence, were already taking action, staging supplies, readying their early response teams,” Earl said. “Those teams are trained, background-checked and badged by UMCOR and deployed by the conference coordinators within their conferences. They were reaching out to the churches that were likely going to be in harm’s way, to remind them that they have a connection with the conference, and by virtue of that connection, they are also connected to UMCOR.”

Disaster Response Coordinators

“We like to say that we are UMCOR,” said Matt Brodie, disaster response coordinator for the South Carolina Annual Conference, which was hard hit by storms in 2018. “When a local church responds to a disaster, they are UMCOR's boots on the ground.”

DRCs from other U.S. conferences across the connection participated in UMCOR conference calls to learn what the anticipated needs would be. After the disasters occurred, the conferences in the Carolinas already knew whom to contact in their neighboring conferences and elsewhere for help.

Neighbor-to-neighbor checks begin following a hurricane landfall, and specialized early response groups called Volunteers in Mission teams are deployed to assist anyone who needs help, not just United Methodists. The VIM teams, comprised of volunteers who are trained, background-checked and badged by UMCOR, remove debris, place tarps on roofs and secure homes from further damage.

“That initial touch really does help people be able to take the next brave steps in their own recovery and … identify people who might need additional help along the way if they're unable to successfully recover on their own,” Earl said.

Beyond the Buckets

Assembling the UMCOR cleaning kits is one way United Methodist congregations around the nation support disaster victims. Each five-gallon bucket contains a variety of products to help with cleanup, from detergent, household cleaner and air freshener, to scrub brushes, clothespins, kitchen gloves, trash bags and more.

“It's not just that we deliver a bucket with stuff in it. It's that we deliver it by a person who says, ‘Here's some cleanup tools. Do you need some help with that?’ Therein is the human touch of care,” Earl said.

More than 7,000 cleaning buckets were given out just in South Carolina to help with cleanup from Hurricane Florence, Brodie said.

The financial support UMCOR receives from United Methodists goes a long way toward providing relief during disasters. “Because of the trust that the people of The United Methodist Church have in us, we are positioned to help address needs, both large and small,” Earl said.

When a financial gift is given to UMCOR, 100 percent of the funds goes to relief and recovery efforts. “UMCOR partners with the annual conferences (in the disaster areas), and they stretch those dollars to the breaking point. They just do all they can to make every dollar turn into two, three, four,” Earl said.

In addition to grant funding and disaster response resources, Brodie said UMCOR provides a lot of training for local churches and conference leadership.

“The best way that we can show our faith and show the love of Christ is to be proactive about it and develop plans, strategies and resources ahead of time,” Brodie said.

“As the church, we have to be the ones who are ready and able to respond to needs quickly, not just from a physical standpoint – tarping or rebuilding homes – but [also] from a spiritual standpoint – being present with those who are impacted and struggling, and leading them, not just through the recovery process. That's an important piece that only the church can provide,” Brodie said.

*Tom Gillem is a freelance writer for Global Ministries.