Wind, water and fire devastate; love, money and muscles follow
UMCOR grants to boost disaster relief efforts
The United Methodist response to the devastating 2017 hurricane season is getting a boost through new grants from the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).
During their Oct. 12-14 meeting, directors of the General Board of Global Ministries and UMCOR (a part of Global Ministries) approved more than $7 million in grants for hurricane and other disaster-relief work.
UMCOR already had received some $15 million from donors in recent months to respond to U.S. disasters. Full-page ads in the Wall Street Journal and New York Times have highlighted the denomination's commitment to long-term disaster relief and that 100 percent of all donations go directly to relief efforts.
Bishop Hector Ortiz of the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico normally would have been a part of the Global Ministries meeting. However, given the continuing dire situation there after Hurricane Maria, Ortiz had a brief livestream conversation with his fellow directors.
"The past three weeks have been truly heartbreaking," Ortiz said. "Thousands of families lost their homes." The Puerto Rican church's partnership with UMCOR and Global Ministries is of utmost importance, he added.
Thomas Kemper, top executive for Global Ministries, said the agency is placing an UMCOR consultant on the island to assist with planning long-term recovery. "They (Puerto Rican Methodists) already have distribution centers in 20 local churches and are trying to stand with the people in Puerto Rico," he said.
UMCOR sent a $100,000 grant to the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico, and assessments are still in process for a larger grant for relief and recovery work.
Puerto Rico's hurricane recovery is estimated to cost up to $95 billion, New York Area Bishop Thomas Bickerton, UMCOR president, noted. That, he told United Methodist News Service, is "a signal to faith-based organizations that we need all hands on deck."
It's important to view the United Methodist response in Puerto Rico as a long-term program, Kemper pointed out. "We have a whole network (in Puerto Rico), which will be here for the long haul."
UMCOR also will look to assisting some of the other island nations affected by hurricanes this fall.
Several of the larger grants approved during the Global Ministries meeting relate to Hurricane Harvey, which dumped 40 to 52 inches of rain and caused catastrophic flooding in southeastern Texas and part of Louisiana, and Hurricane Irma.
The Texas Conference – which includes Houston and at least 20 of the 39 counties falling under the disaster declaration by the Federal Emergency Management Agency – will use its $1 million grant for the first phase of a long-term recovery process to assist 300 households.
Rio Texas will use its $816,418 grant to support two field offices and one satellite office for initial recovery efforts in 14 counties. A "volunteer village" was expected to open by Nov. 1 at First United Methodist Church in Sinton, Texas.
Louisiana has received no FEMA assistance for flooding caused by the downgraded Tropical Storm Harvey. A $500,000 grant will allow the Louisiana Conference to "fast-track recovery operations," UMCOR said.
Winds, rain, flooding and loss of power caused by Hurricane Irma had a widespread, catastrophic impact on Florida. A $1 million grant to the Florida Conference will initiate the church's long-term recovery operation with the establishment of five regional centers.
The mid-October awards were the latest disaster-related grants UMCOR has made since August when it sent $10,000 to Sierra Leone in the wake of a deadly mudslide. UMCOR is in communication with the Methodist Church in Mexico and is ready to respond to partners' requests for relief and recovery assistance from a devastating earthquake in September.
UMCOR also awarded more than $3.3 million in grants to conferences where disasters occurred in 2016 and 2015 – underscoring the humanitarian relief organization's commitment to long-term support of disaster recovery efforts.
Linda Bloom is the assistant news editor for United Methodist News Service and is based in New York.