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Conference, UMCOR respond together to meet needs after storms (Sept. 29, 2004)

Conference, UMCOR respond together to meet needs after storms (Sept. 29, 2004)

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Conference, UMCOR respond together to meet needs after storms

Sept. 29, 2004    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140     Orlando  {0173}

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

LAKELAND — When the Florida Conference responds after a major disaster, such as hurricanes Charley and Frances, it doesn't do it alone. The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) lends a generous hand.

UMCOR was created in 1940 to provide long-term recovery, as well as immediate relief, for people suffering in physical, social and psychological situations. The not-for-profit humanitarian agency of the United Methodist Church responds in both international and domestic emergency disaster situations. It also maintains trained disaster response specialists for quick reinforcement of national efforts and keeps a supply of relief materials in warehouses ready for dispatch when and where ever it's needed.

ANDALUSIA, Ala. — Tom Hazelwood, right, director of emergency services for the United Methodist Committee on Relief, attended a Sept. 20 meeting with Alabama-West Florida Conference disaster leaders to help fine-tune the conference's efforts following Hurricane Ivan. Photo by Meredyth Earnest, Photo #04-0098.

Annual conferences have a national resource in UMCOR both before and after a disaster occurs. UMCOR offers training to prepare conference disaster response coordinators for disasters, then provides relief for immediate needs and long-term rehabilitation once a disaster occurs. Long-term efforts include helping families develop a plan to reassemble their lives, one that focuses on meeting both spiritual and physical needs.

Tom Hazelwood, UMCOR's director of emergency services, began working in Florida at the request of Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker days after Hurricane Charley hit. That work has expanded to include recovery efforts for hurricanes Frances and Jeanne and any other storms that may hit during this hurricane season.

Hazelwood said UMCOR is prepared to assist the conference in any way it can.

"When Charley came ashore I had a one-way ticket and knew I would stay until I needed to go," he said. "I wanted to let the conference know we were here and we would be here as long as we needed to be to provide resources for the conference. We want to help with case management, take care of immediate needs, such as making homes safe, sanitary and secure, manage teams coming in to volunteer, and plan for long-term recovery."

While both the conference and UMCOR have roles in disaster response, Hazelwood said UMCOR's ministry is enabling local churches and impacted communities to reach beyond themselves.

"UMCOR tries to help the community or local church look beyond itself for those that are hurt in a disaster," said Hazelwood, who has directed national disaster response for the agency since 1998. "Our first tendency, which is OK, is to look to see if the church is hurt, how many of our local parishioners have damage to their homes, but our responsibility is to the whole community. It's not just to our parish. The conference has to help the local church do that, and UMCOR helps the conference look beyond its borders."

The Rev. Dr. Anne Burkholder, director of the Florida Conference Equipping Network, said the conference provides a support system and network for local churches engaged in long-term disaster response recovery. It helps them think through the issues, as well as provides resources and personnel. The conference also provides support for pastors working as caregivers in affected communities and helps congregations work through the process of assessing and repairing conference-owned structures, such as sanctuaries and parsonages, damaged during a disaster.

UMCOR was instrumental in helping the conference establish the Florida Storm Recovery Center at the conference center in Lakeland. It's serving as the operations center for the conference's response to this hurricane season's storms. Hazelwood and other UMCOR staff are working there to help disaster response team members direct the conference's efforts. One of the center's main responsibilities is matching churches and groups wanting to volunteer with projects in affected communities.

Impacted communities are a focus of relief efforts, but congregations also need unique care, and UMCOR provides assistance in that area, as well, according to Hazelwood. He said the agency reinforces to local pastors the importance of addressing the emotional and spiritual issues congregations face after experiencing disasters. UMCOR representatives have been meeting with pastors in districts impacted by the recent storms to help them better communicate with their congregations.

"Congregations do need special attention, and if you have a pastor who preaches the lectionary, it helps to reinforce with him the importance of addressing the issue of what has happened in the community," he said. "This will help the congregation work through emotional and spiritual issues."

For the long-term response UMCOR will help the conference develop networks to provide ongoing case management for people who can't get help from traditional settings so they can work through the recovery process, Burkholder said.

"We know that farm worker communities have been badly hit, predominately the Hispanic farm workers on the west coast, but now we're very much aware that we have Haitian farm workers in the Fort Pierce area and other Hispanic farm workers on the east coast who are going to have unique needs that cannot be easily addressed by governmental services," she said. "We want to remind local communities of those special issues and provide ways of working with them that other organizations may not be able to do."

When UMCOR is on the scene of a disaster, Hazelwood said it also provides the larger church an opportunity to connect with local churches who may be feeling isolated after going through a recent trauma. The connection to the larger church provides a calming effect because the local church realizes it is not alone.

"They [local churches] know they are not doing it by themselves," he said. "It has more of an impact than I realize sometimes."

Burkholder said a whole network of people who have been trained in disaster response have made a positive impact for this hurricane season's storm victims-from the conference's quick response team, which immediately goes to work on-site after a disaster, to the district disaster response coordinators, to church pastors who have been through disasters, to laity who have assumed responsibilities during a disaster and developed ministries out of those experiences.

"One of the things that has helped us move ahead and not be completely undone by hurricanes Frances and Charley is the fact that we have these very talented trained people who have been able to provide leadership very, very quickly, and they have been wonderful to work with," she said.


Florida Conference United Methodists are encouraged to send contributions to "Florida Storm Recovery Fund" Conference Special #605 to their local church. Church offerings should be sent to the Florida Conference Treasurer, The United Methodist Church, P.O. Box 3767, Lakeland, FL 33802.

Groups interested in forming a work team to assist with hurricane relief and recovery efforts should contact the Florida Storm Recovery Center at 1-800-282-8011, extension 149. The Florida Conference Storm Recovery Team can be contacted by e-mail at

Donations for relief may also be made to UMCOR Advance #982410, "Hurricanes 2004," and dropped into church offering plates or mailed to UMCOR, 475 Riverside Dr., Room 330, New York, NY 10115. People donating by credit card can call 800-554-8583.

For conference news and storm updates go to

This article relates to Florida Conference Disaster Response.

*Wacht is director of Florida United Methodist Communications and managing editor
of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.