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UMCOR meets challenges of 2017 relief

UMCOR meets challenges of 2017 relief

Disaster Recovery Missions and Outreach

The ongoing relief to Hurricane Irma’s impact on many Florida counties is being met with a higher degree of efficiency by UMCOR, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, as the result of changes made to its global operations.

The damage from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico made delivering relief supplies difficult. The storm badly damaged infrastructure, including roads and highways. Photo by Luis Marquez.

This year has provided a major test for the effectiveness of the revamping, as the organization works to meet the needs associated with earthquakes in Mexico, floods in Texas and Louisiana, wildfires in California, Hurricane Irma in Florida and Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.

Sager Brown coordinated sending four truckloads of relief supplies to Florida in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. The supplies came to the Florida Conference’s Disaster Response Coordinator, Pam Garrison, who then directed their distribution to areas with the greatest urgency. Some 5,616 cleaning buckets, 2,688 hygiene kits and numerous miscellaneous items that included box fans, rakes, shovels and extension cords were distributed from the Florida Keys and up the peninsula through Orange County and beyond.

UMCOR’s major change was to relocate its headquarters from leased space in New York City to a building it purchased and renovated, Grace United Methodist Church, in Atlanta, Georgia. The local church continues to worship in the location.

Amy Fuselier, director of relief supplies at the UMCOR Sager Brown campus in Baldwin, Louisiana, called moving the headquarters a good financial decision and the start of long-range plans that will more effectively cope with the changing needs for humanitarian relief around the globe. Sager Brown has provided relief kits to as many as 82 countries, as well as to cities and states here in the United States.

UMCOR plans to reduce its ongoing cost of running the worldwide ministry by redirecting the money savings of the move back into providing more humanitarian relief.

Around the world, people in need have benefited from the kits sent to them by America’s United Methodist churches. The kits are assembled and packed in UMCOR boxes by church volunteers who pay their own expenses to spend a week at Sager Brown. Officials request these supplies in areas impacted by natural disasters or other calamities.

“The need for relief in Puerto Rico as a result of Hurricane Maria in late September has made it especially difficult for us to ship our kits,” Fuselier said. “Badly damaged infrastructure, including roads and highways, make distribution of supplies difficult.”

UMCOR is also experiencing changes in other parts of the world that affect the delivery and distribution of UMCOR kits. With the time lapse between Sager Brown and the intended recipient sometimes taking months, there is a movement toward grant funding to assist in providing faster, more efficient ways to send supplies internationally.

“Our effectiveness and the efficiency with this arrangement is enormous,” she said. “We are better able to meet the needs of the people impacted with a faster and more direct response.”

Volunteers at Sager Brown will continue making weeklong pilgrimages, but with a reduced number of kits.
“Change is good but always has its challenges,” Fuselier said. “At times, changes may be difficult to accept, but as we explain the reasoning that prompted the changes, we gain acceptance and move forward in a more effective manner.”

In recent years, monetary donations from individual churches have increasingly replaced purchasing the supplies that go into kits. This practice is being encouraged because Sager Brown can purchase the needed items in large quantities at lower prices. It also avoids the expense of shipping kit supplies to Louisiana.

--Phil Keyes is a freelance writer based in LaBelle.

Editor’s Note: Donate here to the Florida Conference Hurricane Irma Fund to help churches and the neighborhoods that surround them. Volunteer to bring yourself or a team to help with the recovery. Together, with God, we are bigger! #flumcWeAreBigger