STAMFORD, Conn., April 4 -- United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is fielding a robust hurricane recovery program serving thousands of families in the Gulf Coast of the United States over the next three years.
The board of directors of the relief agency, meeting here, approved $52.3 million to support extended rehabilitation, direct assistance, family-by-family problem solving, and ministries to evacuees in a seven-state area devastated last year by multiple hurricanes. Funding also went to recovery efforts in South America.
UMCOR's response is focusing on six regions (annual conferences) where the most destructive storms in US history wiped out some 300,000 houses and scattered more than a million people to all fifty states and Puerto Rico. Specifics in various conferences include:
With more than 1.4 million FEMA registrations within its borders, the Louisiana conference is building four sites primarily serving Katrina survivors: Metarie, Slidell, West Bank (Aurora), and New Orleans (First Street). Two other sites, in Abbeville and Lake Charles, are serving Rita survivors.
As in other conference recovery plans, the heart of Louisiana's response is the family-by-family problem solving process known as case management. UMCOR has a national reputation for its expertise in this long-term recovery methodology that restores self sufficiency and, in the words of one survivor, "gives me my life back." Louisiana's three-year program will cost $18,238,798, with 44 percent earmarked for direct assistance.
A $10,531,333 three-year program in Mississippi incorporates a multifaceted approach of case management, supply distribution and rebuilding, centered in five recovery sites. Nearly half -- 48 percent -- of the funding is identified for direct assistance to survivors. Hurricane Katrina flattened or flooded some 65,000 homes along Mississippi's Gulf Coast.
The two-pronged recovery effort under way in Texas serves survivors of Hurricane Rita and evacuees of Hurricane Katrina. One, implemented by the Texas Annual Conference operating from five service centers, assists families uprooted by Rita. This three-year program is budgeted at $3,845,933, and includes about 42 percent in direct assistance.
A second program focuses on the thousands of displaced in the Houston area, evacuees from Louisiana and Mississippi. Receiving $4,084,186 for a three-year effort is Grace Ministries, a partner of the Texas Annual Conference founded by a former case manager who trained under UMCOR during tropical storm Allison recovery. Ruama Camp established the nonprofit humanitarian operation to strengthen the disaster preparedness and response capability of African American churches in the Houston area. Working across denominational boundaries, Ms. Camp is providing case management for vulnerable families as well as a learning lab with literacy specialist, computer skills, job readiness, and entrée for volunteers to prepare for and respond to disasters.
Well seasoned from recent recovery efforts following Hurricane Ivan in 2004, the Alabama-West Florida conference is directing its recovery operations from the town of Bayou LaBatre, where waters from the Gulf swept more than five miles inland, burning trees and foliage and washing debris into the woods from an island eight miles out to sea. The Alabama West Florida allocation of $1,837,436 covers a two-year recovery effort. Some 54% is set aside for direct aid.
Broward, Dade and Monroe counties in Florida are the focus of a two-year recovery effort following Hurricane Wilma. These counties are also continuing their long-term recovery from hurricanes in 2004. The board approved $1,584,468. The conference will use 63% for direct assistance and also support case management. The storm recovery center continues to register and assign volunteer teams to rebuilding efforts across the region.
Hurricane Ophelia thrashed 37 counties in North Carolina on Sept. 13, 2005, destroying many uninsured homes. The board approved a grant of $102,900 for direct assistance and case management.
Grass Roots Grants
A $500,000 grant to the Missouri Annual conference approved by the board is supporting conference ministries to evacuees. The state received more than 16,000 people from the Gulf area. Nearly all the grant -- 86 % -- is designated for direct assistance, distributed through the conference affiliation with several long-term recovery unmet needs roundtables in its region.
The Missouri grant is one of several anticipated as UMCOR works to strengthen capacity of small organizations that fill niche specialties in long-term recovery work. The board approved another $1.8 million for additional grass roots grants. Katrina Aid Today, the federally funded program led by UMCOR, will also award private grants through a proposal process that is expected to attract dozens of bidders. Board directors earmarked an additional $5 million for these grants and named a director to the RFP review panel that will award the grants.
Long-term recovery efforts in Central America and the Caribbean amounting to $1.5 million were approved by the board. UMCOR is responding in Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua working with ecumenical coalitions and local partners. Shelter, restoration of crops, fresh water and psycho-social support are among the efforts under way.
Additional grants totaling $2,750,000 are supporting four other programs:
- housing for volunteer teams;
- funding to bring national mission institution properties back into full operation so they can continue to serve those in the disaster zone;
- upgrades to UMCOR disaster response capacity such as more robust, accessible and secure information tracking;
- cultural competency training.
A key issue of the Katrina disaster is its revelation of race and class discrimination in local communities and state and government planning and practices. Cultural competency training is assisting case managers to serve vulnerable populations -- many of whom live below the poverty line -- more effectively.
Record Giving from United Methodists
Methodists responded with record giving to appeals for donations following the widely televised devastation of Hurricane Katrina and subsequent storms that set their own records for scope of destruction. More than 247,000 gifts poured in from all over the world -- compared with the annual average of 100,000. As of Feb. 28 cash gifts totaled $63,774,914. About 70 percent came from annual conferences. Another $7.6 million of relief and emergency supplies shipped from UMCOR's supply depot to conferences in the Gulf region. Total giving to all charities doing hurricane relief and recovery topped the $3 billion mark.