$1 million UMCOR grant offers bridge to recovery




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To aid communities hardest hit by Hurricane Irma in September, UMCOR recently announced a $1 million grant award to the Florida Conference. Referred to as a "bridge to recovery grant," Pam Garrison, disaster response coordinator for the conference, stated the money will be used to place staff out in the field for disaster case management.

Debris and damage from Hurricane Irma is visible in this neighborhood street in the village of Goodland, located on the tip of Marco Island. Photo by UMNS.

"We're trying to get a vision for how much recovery is going to be needed," Garrison said. The conference is targeting to have 18 case managers and supervisors placed in five areas across the state over the next three to six months, partnering with an estimated 450 to 500 clients.

"We were hit by a catastrophic event," Garrison said. "Forty-eight counties have been declared and all 48 are in the Florida Conference." She added that 2.6 million people have already registered for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assistance, which in her words, "has broken all records."

UMCOR approved more than $7 million in grants for hurricane and disaster relief in October. The organization has already received close to $15 million from donors in recent months to respond to U.S. disasters. UMCOR was reported to have taken full-page ads in both the Wall Street Journal and New York Times highlighting the denomination’s commitment to disaster relief.

The areas served in Florida will include regions where resources may not be readily available, said Garrison. Included will be Monroe County, specifically Big Pine, Marathon and Key West, where the storm made direct impact with catastrophic damage and winds well over 100 miles per hour. Other areas will include Immokalee, Goodland and Everglades City in Collier County; Glades, Highlands and Polk County in Central Florida and the Tampa Bay area. Case managers will also be targeting an area from Jacksonville south.

Garrison added the conference works to reach that five to 10 percent of the population who often "slip through the cracks"—the uninsured, underinsured or those who simply don't have what's needed to recover.

"They could be elderly. They could be single-parent homes," she said. "They could be working poor, working multiple jobs and one step away from disaster when something like this hits. They lose a job and the next thing you know, they're on the street."

The grant award is for a six-month period, Nov. 1 through April 30. The “lion’s share” of what comes from UMCOR, said Garrison, is for staffing.

"Bridge grants are designed to help us figure out how big of a recovery we need to set-up," she said. "We're still going to have to work with other partners to get the money to do repairs."

As she worked from her Lakeland office referencing a color-coded state map filled with hundreds of claims in hurricane-ravaged towns, a nearby conference boardroom was filled with the first wave of volunteers undergoing three days training to become case managers. Their jobs will be to partner with clients and help them put recovery plans together.

"We look at it as a very holistic recovery," Garrison added. "It's not just about, let's fix the person's home. It's about, how do we empower this person. So, the next time, they're more resilient," further suggesting it’s often a job of helping people find resources already in place.

"We are not going to be able to help them all," Garrison emphasized. "There will be many agencies out there working." She observed that there were challenges created by too many storms.

"We had Harvey. We had Irma. We had Maria," she said. "Our partners are stretched to the max." The next round of hiring for the grant, expected to happen in January, will focus on construction efforts.

In response to a need for more volunteer help, in what Garrison estimates will be at least a three to five-year recovery for many Florida residents, she stated UMCOM is hoping to develop electronic messaging at the baggage claim escalators of Tampa International Airport, asking visitors to step up and help.

"It's Florida. This is when the snowbirds are coming back," Garrison said. "As the Church, we say, yes, we want you to come and enjoy our beaches and enjoy our restaurants. But come back and bring a tool belt."

--Doug Long is managing editor of the Florida Conference.


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