By Kara Witherow, Editor
When Hurricane Michael struck Southwest Georgia last October, it left a path of destruction and devastation that’s still being felt.
But thanks to countless volunteers, case managers, organizations, and others, United Methodists in South Georgia are undertaking recovery efforts for those affected.
Sherry Buresh is currently serving as a Disaster Recovery Coordinator working specifically in the Southwest District coordinating long term recovery efforts for those impacted by Hurricane Michael. Her position is a one year recovery project and is funded through the connection by an UMCOR grant.
Last month the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) also provided South Georgia with a $720,000 grant for Hurricane Michael recovery. The grant is part of some $27.6 million in funds authorized April 11 by UMCOR’s board of directors for U.S. and international disaster response, sustainable development and global migration projects, and support for denominational hospitals and health boards through the Global Health unit.
“We are grateful for the funding given to us through UMCOR, our local churches, other annual conferences, and individuals both in and outside of South Georgia to do this important work of providing hope and recovery to those impacted by the storms,” said Allison Lindsey, associate director of Connectional Ministries. “With weather patterns and the severity we have seen here across our conference the past few years, we may be responding to what looks like our new normal.”
Calls for help have come from across the Southwest District, says Buresh, but the focus of the work being done is in the Donalsonville/Seminole County, Baker County, Colquitt, and Bainbridge areas.
The needs are extensive and far reaching, ranging from mold remediation to drywall and flooring repairs to roof replacement.
With big repairs come big bills, and many don’t have the resources to pay for them. Some are finding out – once filing insurance claims – that their coverage isn’t what they thought.
“A lot of folks are uninsured or underinsured,” Buresh said. “One lady even found out that her insurance company had gone bankrupt.”
In addition to structural needs, there are a lot of emotional needs associated with the storm recovery, she said.
“We’ve had people break down and cry because they felt like there wasn’t going to be any help for them and they didn’t know what they were going to do. They felt helpless.”
Buresh is currently building a team of case managers, a volunteer coordinator, and a construction coordinator. This frees her up to work with local, state, and national organizations like National Voluntary Organizations Active In Disaster (NVOAD) and Inspiritus – the Lutheran disaster response services – to coordinate relief efforts.
While the recovery has begun, there’s still a huge need for volunteers and funding, Buresh said.
“It takes a lot of help to be able to get this many counties recovered.”
Still, in the midst of despair, glimmers of light are breaking through the clouds.
“The homeowners we’re helping are so happy and grateful and thankful. They had been desperate and hopeless and now they’re crying tears of relief and happiness,” Buresh said. “We’re turning tears of hopelessness into tears of joy.”
Along with the work Buresh and her team are coordinating, the Conference is still at work in the Albany area, with Avalon United Methodist Church member Ed Haggerty working with Albany Relief & Recovery to assist those impacted by Hurricane Michael in that area, and through Revs. Aimee and Shannon Baxter in Chatham County assisting those impacted by Hurricanes Matthew and Irma.
“United Methodists are known for being ‘the last to leave,’ and this phrase is certainly true for South Georgia,” Lindsey said.