Disaster Response Coordinators Pray, Cheer as Relief Supplies Ship to Puerto Rico


Praying over UMCOR relief supplies bound for Puerto Rico

From Rev. Scott Parrish

UMCOR staff, consultants, and the disaster response coordinators from annual conferences across the United States gathered at the Sager Brown Depot in Baldwin, Louisiana this week. It was a time to hear updates on the numerous natural disasters ranging from hurricanes to fires that occured over the last year. The group also participated in continuing education and strategizing as evaluate the past year and plan for 2018. Of course, the group enjoyed the incredible hospitality of the Sager Brown staff, including wonderful local Cajun cuisine like gumbo and etouffee.

A highlight of the week was a prayer send-off of one of the five cargo containers loaded and on the way to Puerto Rico this week. The group of 70 cheered when Amy Fuselier, Director of Relief Supplies, told us how incredible it was to see the UMC response with 50,000 cleaning buckets, and that the shipments this week should arrive in Puerto Rico on Thanksgiving Day!

Gratitude was expressed repeatedly for the prayers, the funding, and the bucket and relief kit donations. The combined efforts of all of our churches make a significant difference. We were reminded that there are so many communities affected by disasters that it is more important than ever for unaffected conferences and churches to send work teams during the next 6 months.

Many conference leaders gave thanks for volunteer response while recognizing that there are so many disasters spread across so many states that we need more volunteers and teams than ever before. While Hurricane Matthew, or any number of other storms, may be a distant or even forgotten memory for us, many people are still living with and in the disaster.

Ward Smith, flood recovery coordinator for South Carolina, expressed thanks for the numerous Georgia churches which have responded to their flooding in both fall 2016 and fall 2017. The South Carolina Conference still has around 150 homes that need work. This number is likely to grow as many programs are closing. It’s often said that in disaster response “United Methodists are among the first to arrive and the last to leave.”  

Cliff Harvel, of North Carolina, shared that many homeowners have just learned that they are not eligible for federal assistance. This puts more of the home renovations into the North Carolina United Methodist disaster response system. That Conference currently has 55 active projects affiliated with 5 field offices in 8 counties. They have around 250 cases in the system and are still qualifying families. In the last 6 weeks they have seen an increase in the number of families coming in for help. They are just beginning to look at three counties which have received little attention and still need volunteers. Cliff expects it will take 4-5 years with a steady stream of volunteer work teams rebuilding homes before they will be finished.

Pam Garrison is the conference disaster response coordinator for Florida. Pam shared that our nearby sister states and annual conferences need our North Georgia assistance more than ever. 
I made key contacts and will help connect your church mission team with a community that needs you. Here is some helpful information:

South Carolina Conference
South Carolina is looking for volunteers to help roof houses, repair siding, install sheetrock, repair floors and other tasks to return families to safe living situations. The volunteer coordinator Nikki Ulmer at nulmer@umcsc.org. They suggest:
1 Put together a team and assess your skills. Teams of any size, ability level are needed.
2 Identify a date or dates on which your team can volunteer. Be flexible as the host conference juggles teams, skill levels, project, etc.
3  Contact us to confirm and arrange details for your mission.
South Carolina contacts:
Phone: 803-888-3051
North Carolina Conference
The five county locations with field offices are Bertie, Beaufort, Cumberland, Edgecombe, & Robeson. Volunteer housing is available in Bertie, Cumberland, Dare, Edgecombe and Robeson counties. Similar to South Carolina, a variety of skills are needed as the homes are made safe again.
Volunteers are also needed at the Robeson County Church & Community Center.
To volunteer at any of these locations, please contact:
 the NCCUMC Disaster Call Center
Phone: 888-440-9167
Florida Conference
Florida isn’t yet receiving teams for Hurricane Irma, but there will be significant needs in the near future as they set up their field offices. The Florida Conference has just received a $1 million UMCOR grant this week for case management. “The conference is targeting to have 18 case managers and supervisors placed in five areas across the state over the next three to six months, partnering with an estimated 450 to 500 clients.” Read more about that at: http://www.flumc.org/newsdetail/1-million-umcor-grant-offers-bridge-to-recovery-9936787

Teams and individuals available to volunteer in Florida can register at:
Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico is still in the emergency phase and this will likely continue for many months as power is restored and the infrastructure re-established. They will advise when they are ready to receive teams as we maintain contact with Bishop Ortiz. UMCOR is very supportive of the long-term needs of the churches and communities.

As I prepare for the last day here at Sagar Brown, I'm profoundly grateful for the opportunities I've had to learn from and partner with UMC mission champions over the last 25 years. My local church, district and conference ministry has always been strengthened by the larger United Methodist Church. 

Rev. Scott Parrish is associate director of Connectional Ministries and Conference Disaster Response Coordinator for North Georgia. Email him at scott.parrish@ngumc.net.