Submitted by: Al Miller III, Director of Disaster Ministries, NCCUMC
The harsh reality of Hurricane Florence five months after the storm devastated our state, is coming into focus for many of our churches, our communities and their members. Many North Carolina counties, cities, small towns and crossroads have all been affected by this storm. In a few instances, communities may not be able to recover from the damage. The loss of residents who have damaged homes, the loss of business and industry due to structural damages, community infrastructure (roads, bridges) needs and the uncertainty of what lies ahead has only exacerbated the problem for these areas. In many ways, these are the people and communities that the North Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church is reaching out to help through Disaster Ministries programs.
As we continued our efforts through January and February, we were seeing an increase in the number of volunteer groups responding, as we spread our call for assistance and an increase in the needs of those requesting assistance, as word of our programs reaches them. Over 234,000 hours of volunteer assistance have been documented to date and 6,128 volunteers are scheduled to offer assistance over the next 7 months, with additional volunteer groups being added daily. By partnering with many Long-Term Recovery Groups and affiliated VOAD agencies, we are focused in several critical need areas across the state, setting-up Disaster Recovery Centers with Site Managers, Case Managers and Construction Managers. In addition, we are developing multiple satellite centers for hosting teams so we can be closer to the areas of immediate need. These satellite centers will operate under the direction of the local DRC for both Case Management and Construction Management. We are committed to our goal of “helping people find their way back home,” rebuilding their lives, churches and communities.
Since the start of the 2019 calendar year, Disaster Ministries is now operating out of seven regional Disaster Recovery Centers (Fayetteville, Lumberton, Tarboro, Washington, Swansboro, Newport and Whiteville). In addition, a DRC will be opened in the Wilmington area to work in both Brunswick, New Hanover and Columbus counties. Satellite centers are being developed for Burgaw/Pender, Swan Quarter/Jones and Aurora/Pamlico counties at this time and hope to be open within the next 5-6 weeks, while several ERT centers (Wesley Memorial, Trinity, Partners in Ministry) are still open and hosting teams for response activities. Each of these sites have contributed to the recovery effort in these respective communities and have been instrumental in providing valuable feedback on the tremendous needs that have not been met.
The setup, logistics and operations of a Disaster Recovery Center or satellite center are extremely costly. Set-up cost include the purchase of trucks, trailers, tools, and materials needed for rebuild at each DRC so the necessary equipment will be available for our volunteers. In addition, through our Case Management services, we offer the homeowner an opportunity to use our Case Managers as a partner to develop a financial plan and assessment to completely rebuild their property. We will use whatever funds that the homeowners have available along with other grant funding resources available for their area to find the monies needed for rebuild.
Disaster Ministries has continued to research any and all grant opportunities to find the funding necessary for our operations. To date, UMCOR- US Disaster Response has been our number one funding source for our Conference-wide operations. We have applied for additional UMCOR grant funding to continue operations through December 2020. In addition, we are actively seeking grant opportunities with The Golden Leaf Foundation, Red Cross, Long-Term Recovery Groups, other VOAD programs and business/ industry resources. Lowe’s Home Improvement has been an essential partner through both their regional offices and their corporate office programs in both direct and in-direct programs. We understand that this will be a long-term recovery program (5-7 years) and are committed to continue our efforts, as long as funding is available.
NCCUMC Disaster Ministries has been working with the North Carolina Baptist Men Disaster Group and the North Carolina Emergency Management Office in utilizing and implementing the NC STEP program. Overall, more than 16,000 homes were identified immediately after the storm as needing the assistance of this program. The STEP (sanitary temporary electric power) program will give qualifying homeowners up to $17,000 for rebuild efforts to quickly get those displaced back into their homes, as long as specific qualifying conditions are met. This opportunity allows us to establish a relationship with these potential new clients as they merge into our casework files using state monies while allowing us to divert conference and local funds to the underserved and under-insured members of our communities.
Disaster Ministries is currently beginning an assessment of churches that were affected by the storm. In a survey immediately after Hurricane Florence, over 97 churches and 33 parsonages were reported to have some damage from the storm. We have begun to contact those churches to gather more specific information detailing the damaged each sustained and any efforts that have been taken to mediate or repair their facilities. UMCOR has offered additional grant opportunities for church repair and we will seek their assistance once we can better finalize our needs.
The North Carolina Conference of Disaster Ministries program is actively involved in Hurricane Florence recovery/rebuild, but we need the help of our local churches, pastors, congregations and communities in our efforts. Through NCCUMC programs/services, local district sponsorships and programs such as Neighbor to Neighbor, Early Response Training, Long-Term Recovery, UMVIM, NOMADS, etc., we are asking you to join us as we strive to “help people find their way back home.” Doing this as we live the mission of the NC Disaster Recovery Ministries, “providing a caring Christian presence in the aftermath of disaster and serve as a voice of conscience among United Methodists to act in the relief of human suffering by focusing on rebuilding the homes and there by the lives if disaster Survivor’s.”