United Methodists help lead Hurricane Katrina response


(UMNS) United Methodists have helped more than 60,000 people rebuild 25,000 homes on the Gulf Coast in the two years since Hurricane Katrina headlined one of the most active hurricane seasons in recorded history.

A new report issued by the United Methodist Committee on Relief shows the church has taken a leading role in repairing and restoring broken homes and assisting those who lost everything in the storms.

UMCOR also manages the national case management consortium sponsored by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency. As of mid-August, more than 164,000 individuals had received services from Katrina Aid Today.

Meanwhile, a recent USA Today analysis comparing recovery work by faith-based groups reported that UMCOR's home improvement efforts outpaced other religious charities working in region. The article reported that 56,656 United Methodist volunteers have provided services on 15,643 of the total 53,226 homes improved. United Methodists represented the third largest contingent of volunteer workers in the region, according to the article "Faith rebuilds house and soul."

Serving least, lost
"Serving Survivors," an UMCOR report released Aug. 22, provides a snapshot of the United Methodist response to the unprecedented wind and water damage from several large hurricanes in 2005 - Dennis, Katrina, Rita, Stan and Wilma - through June 30, 2007.

"We're at the two-year mark in our five-year plan of long-term recovery work," said the Rev. Sam W. Dixon, UMCOR interim executive.

The 2005 Atlantic hurricane season was the most active in recorded history, spawning 28 named storms. Fifteen became hurricanes, including Katrina, the costliest ever. After the storms, donors to UMCOR's "Hurricanes of 2005" appeal responded with record gifts. The more than $66 million in total giving was the highest ever given to an UMCOR Advance.

Dixon said UMCOR offers a case management approach to long-term recovery that is considered "best practice" in the field. Through this approach, a family writes its own recovery plan and works with a caring case manager to implement recovery. Cash assistance provides for needs such as clothing, medical care, school fees, rent, mortgage payments and home repair materials.

Sixty-three percent of the disbursed funds have gone to the five annual (regional) conferences where multiple storms struck: Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama-West Florida and Florida.

With UMCOR assistance, all five conferences have organizations in place to identify and work with survivors, recruit and host volunteer teams, and manage rebuilding efforts. Cash disbursements have been used for initial relief, case management and rebuilding. The result is some 25,000 total and partial rebuilds.

UMCOR Sager Brown Depot, a disaster response depot in Baldwin, La., played an active role in the responses, shipping in-kind donations valued at $7.6 million during the emergency and relief phases. Items shipped included supplies, water, shovels and flood buckets.

National help
The national consortium of Katrina Aid Today was established in 2005 under the management of UMCOR. The consortium received a $66 million grant through FEMA and international donations received after the hurricane.

Katrina Aid Today consists of nine national partners and local grassroots social service organizations. National partners are Boat People SOS, Catholic Charities USA, Episcopal Relief and Development, Lutheran Disaster Response, National Disability Rights Network, Odyssey House of Louisiana, Society of St. Vincent DePaul, The Salvation Army and Volunteers of America.

Clients in as many as 32 states have been served since the program began in 2005. The offices of the consortium will consolidate to 15 states after October 2007. Katrina Aid Today partners will remain open in Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, New York, Oklahoma, Texas and Washington.

"Katrina Aid Today determined that we wished to remain open in the most vulnerable areas," said Jim Cox, executive director. "By consolidating offices to these states, we can extend the grant period and continue to reach out to persons in need of case management."