Monday, August 30, 2010

Five Years of Hurricane Katrina Response

Rev. Tom Hazelwood is UMCOR’s assistant general secretary for disaster response in the United States.
We United Methodists can be proud of our work following Hurricane Katrina. From around the country and around the world, United Methodists responded during these last five years to the emergency on the Gulf Coast. More than $60 million in donations to UMCOR were multiplied by the work of volunteers, in-kind contributions, and the simple hard labor of local United Methodist churches along the Gulf Coast. It was the local congregations that made up the first wave of response to the disaster, as fearless pastors and church members did everything they could to help their neighbors.

As the emergency unfolded, Katrina Aid Today was developed as another important part of UMCOR’s response. I remember so vividly the meetings in Mississippi and Washington, DC, when we worked with FEMA to find a way to reach out to the families that had fled New Orleans and dispersed across the United States. Katrina Aid Today was the result of the hard work of a team of dedicated people at UMCOR. Paul Dirdak, Kristin Sachen, Jim Cox, Warren Harrity, Linda Beher, and I labored for hours to pull together a proposal, fine tune it, and then defend it against myriad other proposals for funds contributed to the US government from foreign governments. In the end, UMCOR received $66 million from FEMA and created a consortium of nine organizations. The funds swelled to more than $200 million when the contributions of the consortium were added in, and we helped more than 183,000

Today, UMCOR is focused on providing local churches with the tools they need to be ready to respond to any disaster, connecting them with their annual conferences and communities through our Connecting Neighbors training program.

Earlier this year, the last of the donations to UMCOR for Hurricane Katrina relief was disbursed to the Mississippi and Louisiana annual conferences, and the rebuilding of homes and lives continues a little while longer. Within the next year, however, the funds will be exhausted, and UMCOR’s work along the Gulf Coast will end. Yet the need persists.

Looking back over the past five years on the Gulf Coast, I feel UMCOR has been faithful to our constituents and good stewards of the donations they entrusted to us. We made every dollar stretch. Lives of both those who received assistance and those who volunteered were touched, and, I pray, God was glorified.

Rev. Tom Hazelwood is UMCOR’s assistant general secretary for disaster response in the United States.

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