Faith-based Organizations Provide Majority of Aid in Wake of Disasters

(Photo courtesy of Trailers of the East Coast)
(Photo courtesy of Trailers of the East Coast)

If you donate bottles of water, diapers, clothing or any other materials to hurricane victims in Texas or Florida, your donation will likely pass through the hands of the Seventh Day Adventists before it gets to a storm victim. That’s because the Adventists, over several decades, have established a unique expertise in disaster “warehousing” collecting, logging, organizing and distributing relief supplies, in cooperation with government disaster response agencies.

Likewise, the United Methodist Committee on Relief is known for its expertise in “case management.” After the initial cleanup — where the Methodists have work crews helping pull mud out of houses — the church sends trained volunteers into the wreckage to help families navigate the maze of FEMA assistance, state aid programs and private insurance to help them rebuild their lives. UMCOR also trains other non-profits to send their own case managers into the disaster zone.

In a disaster, churches don’t just hold bake sales to raise money or collect clothes to send to victims; faith-based organizations are integral partners in state and federal disaster relief efforts. They have specific roles and a sophisticated communication and coordination network to make sure their efforts don’t overlap or get in each others’ way.

The Convoy of Hope, a non-denominational Christian organization, specializes in feeding. Before Hurricane Irma made landfall in Florida, the Springfield, Mo.,-based Convoy had three trailer trucks stocked with food, water and sanitary supplies parked in the state waiting to deploy to areas hardest hit, said spokesman Jeff Nene. In major disasters, the organization will set up feeding stations, sometimes at FEMA’s request and even using government-provided food and equipment.

The Adventists have agreements with states around the country to provide warehouse services in the event of a disaster. “Right now, in the state of Texas, we are going around with FEMA trying to help them select a facility,” said Derek Lee, director of disaster response for Adventist Community Services. “It’ll actually be the state’s facility but it’ll be us that helps them manage it. We are going around with them right now trying to help them pick out a facility that will accommodate what the need is going to be on the ground.”

Over and over again in public comments as Hurricane Harvey was soaking Texas and Louisiana, FEMA administrator Brock Long asked concerned citizens to go to NVOAD.org to make donations – that is National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, the alliance of volunteer organizations that are helping FEMA channel disaster assistance into the affected areas. About 75% of the organizations that are part of the alliance are faith-based.

Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical aid group run by Rev. Franklin Graham, has trucks at the ready in Florida with chainsaws and debris removal experts to help clean up houses. After initial cleanup, the group has contracting services available to help the needy rebuild their homes. The group has responded to 20 disasters already this year, said Luther Harrison, vice president of North American Ministries for Samaritan’s Purse.

“FEMA – they have been a big blessing to us, they’re an assistance to us,” Harrison said Saturday. “For Hurricane Irma, the majority of our equipment has already been dispatched to Texas … so our office in Canada is bringing their equipment across the border and FEMA was instrumental in helping us clear that with customs and getting all the paperwork done.”

Harrison said a Samaritan’s Purse disaster relief unit is a two-story, 53-foot trailer that has tools and equipment, including two dozen chainsaws, blue tarps for roofing, and kits for helping homeowners clear mud out of their houses.

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SOURCE: Paul Singer 
USA Today