By Barbara Dunlap-Berg*
In 2011, natural disasters — earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes, floods and fires — have dominated world news. In response, United Methodists have shared faithfully through praying, giving money, volunteering — and assembling UMCOR relief kits.
“Our material resource ministry is extremely important for two reasons,” said the Rev. Tom Hazelwood, who heads disaster response in the United States, the Caribbean and Latin America.
“It provides people who sit in the pew an opportunity to use their hands in a tangible way to respond to disasters and help individuals all over the world when they cannot personally go and volunteer. They are still the hands of Christ that have put the kit together.”
Relief kits also send a message to survivors of a natural disaster, Hazelwood noted.
“Will a cleaning bucket provide everything that one needs to clean up after a flood or a fire?” he asked. “Absolutely not. But it will provide some of the basic necessities for cleaning. And it will provide a loving connection from the people of The United Methodist Church.
“Our kits (enable) the recipient to receive something tangible from The United Methodist Church that says we care about them and will provide assistance in a very practical way.”
UMCOR relief supplies — bedding, birthing, health, layette, school and sewing kits and cleaning buckets — help to care for the most vulnerable people during crises. They also help to sustain everyday life by providing necessities to people who lack ready access to essential supplies. They support UMCOR’s ministry throughout the world.
‘Be prepared to respond’
Right now, cleaning buckets (formerly called “flood buckets”) top the list of needed supplies in the United States, according to Kathy Kraiza, who oversees the UMCOR Sager Brown depot in Baldwin, La.
“We currently have approximately 8,000 buckets available throughout the UMCOR relief supply network,” she said.
“We can't really predict what we will need in a particular year or how many we will need for the rest of 2011 as we can't predict natural disasters. We continue to remind churches that we need to be as prepared as possible to respond as (disasters) occur.”
In Mechanicsburg, Pa., Mission Central is busy responding to the effects of hurricanes — and the flooding that followed — on the U.S. eastern seaboard. The Rev. Rob Visscher heads Mission Central, the mission warehouse of United Methodism’s Susquehanna Annual (regional) Conference. Several of the agency’s 23 hubs were flooded in the recent storms.
“Disaster response teams are assessing (needs) right now,” he said. As of Sept. 12, Mission Central had distributed 3,000 cleaning buckets and was expecting 1,800 more from Sager Brown. “They will go out the door” as soon as they arrive, Visscher said.
Health kits are another popular item in the Northeast. Mission Central had 60,000 and after the hurricanes, distributed 10,000 to 20,000. “We’re using a couple thousand in-house for localized flooding,” he added.
“Since our conference has been hit so much,” Visscher said, “we try to respond to our conference. But we also sent 700 to 800 cleaning buckets to the Adirondacks area of upstate New York.
“We can be that platform where people come together to make an impact around the world,” he continued, noting that Mission Central has also responded to human suffering in Sierra Leone and Haiti.
‘UMCOR is … all of us’
Kraiza said that as disasters occur, UMCOR determines needs and issues the call for relief supplies. She said the UMCOR relief supply network allows for maximum efficiency in responding to disasters. People can deliver or send their relief kits to the closest depot location, saving time and reducing shipping costs.
To help with kits
To assemble and donate cleaning buckets and other relief kits, go to UMCOR's relief site. To support this effort through The Advance, give to Relief Supplies, UMCOR Advance #901440.
In Texas, where wildfires have inflicted severe destruction, some churches and other groups have assembled “burn buckets,” which contain items specific for cleaning up after a fire. Kraiza said UMCOR has no immediate plans to add burn buckets to its repertoire.
“Although conferences often devise unique ways to respond to local disasters,” she explained, “we do not currently have plans to expand beyond the current seven kits within the UMCOR kit ministry.”
Every year, Kraiza said, more than 3,000 volunteers serve at UMCOR Sager Brown, 1,500 at UMCOR West in Salt Lake City and thousands more at the five other member depots of the Relief Supply Network.
"They are all vital contributors to the ability of UMCOR to respond when disaster strikes. UMCOR is us, all of us within The United Methodist Church, and it takes all of us to respond when disaster affects any of us in the world."
*Dunlap-Berg is internal content editor for United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn.