We are all saddened by the devastation from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and many of us are helping with financial support or in other ways. Please continue to provide support.
You may wonder how the response all comes together when a disaster occurs. Who responds first? How do you know what you can and should do and when to do it? What is most helpful to the people affected? And, what is the role of the UCC National Disaster Ministries and local congregations in these situations?
The first and most important consideration when a disaster is looming (hurricane) or sudden (tornado) is safety. Local, County, State and Federal agencies are responsible for making sure people are safe in their homes or shelters. At that time no non-government agencies are involved unless they have prior relationships with the official agencies. One of the most important rules in responding to disasters is that organizations and individuals should not self deploy or send unsolicited donations.
The UCC Disaster Ministries is a member of the National Volunteer Organizations Assisting in Disasters (VOAD). In fact, Zach Wolgemuth, the director of UCC Disaster Ministries is currently the vice chair of National VOAD. Most states have state VOAD organizations to manage response to events in their states. VOAD members are non-profit organizations committed to responding, both immediately and in the long-term. Many of the organizations have identified and prepared for a specific niche in recovery. For example, the Red Cross and Salvation Army respond immediately to provide support for shelter and feeding. Southern Baptists do chain saw work to remove downed trees and debris removal; United Methodists do muck out. Others provide warehousing and distribution of supplies, damage assessment, and case management. The focus of the UCC is long-term recovery. In other words, after the clean up is done, after needs have been assessed and cases assigned, after insurance claims are submitted and FEMA support is determined the long, arduous work of repair and rebuilding starts. That’s when we roll in. That process takes months to begin and years to finish.
That doesn’t mean we in the United Church of Christ cannot respond now. There are important contributions we can make immediately while making commitments and planning for long-term recovery.
- Financial support. I know it seems like we keep repeating the request for financial support, but the need is unimaginable.
Specific materials and supplies for clean up. Church World Service collects and distributes clean up and hygiene kits. The need for the cleaning kits starts after the initial muck out and clean up. The kits are designed to be used by the volunteers or homeowners to remove or stop mold and get ready to reoccupy or repair. That may be weeks or months after the event, or longer. If you or your congregation do not think you can prepare clean up and hygiene kits alone, do what one of our retired pastors did and ask friends, family, and associates on other organizations to also help. Or, let me know and I can help coordinate efforts between multiple congregations. We will also help arrange shipping or delivery for completed kits. Any amount contributed or number of kits prepared helps. Note: CWS needs completed kits, not funds. They do not have the resources to prepare the kits. They store kits until needed and manage distribution. Click here for information on the clean up and hygiene kits. Don’t forget the UCC has matching grants for congregations to help with the costs (click here for more information).
- Plan to be a part of a work team. We will be coordinating with UCC National Disaster Ministries for locations and dates for much needed volunteers for repair and rebuilding. Work camps will be set up with project managers and housing arrangements so groups going to volunteer do not need to make their own arrangements or decide what needs to be done. If you are interested in being a part of a recovery work team, please contact Renee Pfenning at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Minnesota Conference Disaster Ministries is also encouraging all congregations to have response and recovery plans for their church buildings and congregations and all members to have response and safety plans for themselves. We have a variety of materials to help with that planning and Renee Pfenning will meet with congregations to help get the process started. See our webpage.
And always, keep those impacted by the disasters in your prayers.
Conference Disaster Response Coordinator
Editors note: We are hearing from many of our churches about what they are doing to help with Hurricane Relief. Please contact the Conference Office and share with us what you are doing.