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Donations to storm recovery fund top $1 million mark

Donations to storm recovery fund top $1 million mark

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Donations to storm recovery fund top $1 million mark

April 7, 2005    News media contact:  Tita Parham*    
800-282-8011     Orlando  {0273}

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

LAKELAND — If there is a bright spot to the dark days when hurricanes battered the state last fall, it's that United Methodists have dug deep into their wallets to help people who are hurting.

As of March 29, nearly $1.1 million has been donated to the Florida Conference Storm Recovery Fund from individuals, Florida Conference churches, and other organizations and United Methodist conferences. The bulk of that amount — a little more than $900,000 — has come from Florida churches.

Florida Conference churches have also donated nearly $124,000 to the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) 2004 Hurricanes fund.

Dr. Randy Casey-Rutland, the conference's treasurer, said those contributions are "phenomenal."

"I think it's incredible," he said. "The money that people gave above their routine giving in the last six months for hurricane and tsunami relief is 50 percent more than what people gave to the Sept. 11 fund. It's significantly more than anything in recent memory."

Marilyn Swanson, project director of the Florida Conference Storm Recovery Center (SRC), said giving from members has been very generous, although more is needed because people continue to seek help with each passing week.

"We continue to receive calls from families and individuals needing our help because they have exhausted all their other resources," Swanson said.

ARCADIA — A CNN news team visits the Rev. David Harris (center) soon after Hurricane Charley hit to cover the widespread effects of the storm in the community surrounding Trinity United Methodist Church here and the work the church had begun with the area's migrant workers. Photo by Michael Wacht, Photo #05-0152.

The level of activity of the 2004 hurricane season caught many by surprise. Within a period of six weeks beginning Aug. 13, hurricanes Charley, France and Jeanne hit the state, causing 88 fatalities combined.

Florida Conference leaders established the SRC at the conference center in Lakeland after Hurricane Charley, and it continues to serve as the operations center for the conference's response. During the relief phase it served as a central hub from which dozens of volunteers worked around the clock to respond to needs throughout the state. It also dispatched hundreds of work teams from 32 states into disaster areas and sent supplies, money and labor to assist in debris removal and distribution of food, water and ice. It is estimated that volunteers donated more than one million hours of service.

The SRC has not been alone in its efforts to help people recover. UMCOR responded immediately to the conference's requests for help.

Created in 1940, UMCOR provides long-term recovery, as well as immediate relief, for people suffering in physical, social and psychological situations, both in international and domestic emergency disaster situations. It also serves as a national resource for annual conferences, offering training to prepare response coordinators before disasters occur and providing relief for immediate needs and long-term rehabilitation after a disaster.

Tom Hazelwood, UMCOR's executive secretary for disaster response in the United, said five conferences are seeking grants to help with recovery efforts, but he anticipates the Florida Conference will receive the bulk of the funds because it has the largest area affected by the storms. UMCOR's board of directors will meet April 12 to make funding decisions.

Hazelwood said the board will have a hard job dispersing the roughly $6 million in funds to impacted areas, including the Caribbean, when $5 million alone could be spent within Florida. He noted that $110,000 in emergency funds has been awarded to the Florida Conference.

"The need is great; we will do good work with the money we have," said Hazelwood, who has directed national disaster response for the agency since 1998. "We will get good mileage out of the money, help the greatest number of people that we can."

Hazelwood agrees more money is needed due to the scope of the storms.

"It's so hard to comprehend the distance covered by the storms," he said. "It's so widespread, not just in one area. The magnitude of the storms left severe damage to homes all across the state."

Swanson said the large impact area of the storms has left people struggling to rebuild their homes and lives.

"People are just beginning to realize that they are not going to be able to rebuild their homes on their own," she said. "People have given generously, but we will need even more because the need is so great."

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 assisting with rebuilding and recovery efforts should contact the Florida Storm Recovery Center at 800-282-8011, extension 149. The Florida Conference Storm Recovery Team can be contacted by e-mail at

Donations for recovery 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 storm recovery news and updates go to


This article relates to Florida Conference Disaster Response.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.