Disasters – natural and humanmade – have increased the world over, which means UMCOR’s work has increased as well. UMCOR staff work diligently to resource and assist its partners nationally and internationally to reach people who wait for help, wherever they may be and whatever the cause of their distress.
By Christie R. House
September 24, 2021 | ATLANTA
The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), The United Methodist Church’s humanitarian relief and recovery organization, is in the midst of a busy year and has responded to hurricanes, tornadoes, typhoons, catastrophic flooding, earthquakes, political unrest, wildfires and volcanoes. UMCOR, under the direction of the denomination’s international mission agency, the General Board of Global Ministries, has also worked in-between major disaster events to help communities prepare for disasters, assisting annual conferences as they develop resilient ways of facing disasters, working to lessen the impact as much as possible.
In the United States, hurricane season is well underway and UMCOR’s U.S. Disaster Response office has most recently connected with several different conferences in the path of Hurricane Ida. As a storm moves, so does UMCOR.
“In the United States, UMCOR works with each conference’s disaster response ministry to provide financial assistance through emergency grant funding, as requested by the bishops of the affected conferences,” said Roland Fernandes, general secretary of Global Ministries and UMCOR. After Hurricane Ida made landfall In Louisiana, Mississippi and the Northeast in the last days of August and first days of September, conference disaster response coordinators received solidarity grants to help with immediate needs, providing food, water, cleaning supplies and other forms of emergency assistance.
The agency will also assist conferences with expertise in assessment and training, fostering connections among UMCOR’s large network of nonprofit partners and volunteers.
“Connecting with local governments and other relief agencies and identifying existing assets within an affected conference is important in developing a coordinated plan of action,” said Lara S. Martin, director of UMCOR’s U.S. Disaster Response. “UMCOR recommends that conferences map out this information to avoid duplicating others’ efforts and to reach areas and people who are underserved in the response.”
As the emergency response winds down and the full repercussions of a storm like Ida are revealed, UMCOR will continue to accompany conference disaster coordinators and their teams as they consider the ongoing needs of their communities and the ways churches might assist with recovery. Additional grants may be awarded once projects are solidified. Since effective recovery takes time to develop, donations received in the immediacy of a disaster may be dispersed months later. Those initial funds may also provide support for a multiyear project, such as disaster case management or long-term reconstruction.
Storm, flood and wildfire relief
Before Hurricane/Tropical Storm Ida, UMCOR issued emergency grants to the Tennessee Conference in March and again in August because of torrential rains and flash flooding.
The New England Conference received a grant for Hurricane Henri relief and Western North Carolina received one for Tropical Storm Fred, both August events.
The Michigan Conference received a major recovery grant this year to follow up with last year’s Great Lakes Bay flooding, working under Michigan state’s FEMA disaster case management project. This grant will help the conference rebuild homes and provide disaster case management for families not yet fully recovered.
In June, UMCOR assisted the Florida Conference disaster response office with the Surfside apartment building collapse in its support of survivors and the families of those lost.
Wildfire season began early in the West and has turned out to be a record breaking year of extremely high temperatures, drought and wildfires. As of Sept. 20, the National Interagency Fire Center lists a total of 45,184 wildfires across the country that have burned more than 5.6 million acres so far in 2021. The California-Nevada and Oregon-Idaho conferences received grants for response to the 2021 Dixie and Bootleg Fires. Technical assistance and training are also being provided to the conferences. Fire recovery, particularly for communities hard-hit, like Paradise, California, in 2018, can take years to rebuild. The Pacific-Northwest Conference received a grant in November 2020 to begin the recovery from the Okanagan County fire, which includes the Colville Reservation. UMCOR anticipates continuing support for these recovery efforts, even as the 2021 wildfire season continues.
Earlier in 2021, the Umatilla River in Northeast Oregon flooded many communities along its banks. Oregon-Idaho received a recovery grant to aid survivors in the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and in Umatilla County. Emergency funds also aided the Texas, Central Texas and North Texas disaster response efforts after the winter storm and flash snow event that disrupted the state’s infrastructure. The Rio Texas Conference received a grant for an April hailstorm that damaged the entire town of D’Hanis and the Texas Conference received additional relief funds to continue plumbing repair in homes and churches impacted more severely by the winter storms.
Christie R. House is a consultant writer and editor with Global Ministries and UMCOR.
To keep current on UMCOR updates, please visit the United States Disaster Response webpage. New emergency and recovery responses are added as grants are developed and dispersed. Part two of this three-part series, published next week, will follow-up with UMCOR’s 2021 international disaster response.