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Disaster recovery director says missions grant will help, but more money needed

Disaster recovery director says missions grant will help, but more money needed

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Disaster recovery director says missions grant will help, but more money needed

Aug. 1, 2008     News media contact: Tita Parham* 
800-282-8011    Orlando {0894}

An e-Review Feature
By Tita Parham

The Florida Conference received nearly half a million dollars this year from the Board of Global Ministries for ongoing long-term recovery from hurricanes and tornadoes that have hit the state since 2004.

Marilyn Swanson (standing) works with a staff member in the Florida Conference Disaster Recovery Ministry office. Swanson is project director of the ministry. Photo by Caryl Kelley. Photo #08-0949.

While those funds will significantly bolster the conference’s efforts, they are far from enough to meet the needs that still exist, according to Marilyn Swanson, project director of the Florida Conference Disaster Recovery Ministry.

Swanson oversees the conference’s recovery efforts. One of her main roles is fostering partnerships and relationships with government and nongovernmental organizations active in disaster, as well as other denominations and nonprofit organizations. She also manages the ministry’s finances and promotes its vision and mission. 

The $488,256 gift awarded by the missions arm of the denomination was one of several grants to annual conferences for storm recovery efforts. A total of $6.8 million was given to the Louisiana Conference; $4.3 million to the Mississippi Conference; and nearly $2 million to the Texas Conference, according to a United Methodist News Service article. Another $878,363 was approved to GRACE Community Services in Houston for long-term recovery work with Hurricane Katrina survivors and disaster preparedness.

The money given to the Florida Conference will be used to fund disaster training, materials and supplies for areas still actively involved in disaster recovery, and direct services to people affected by the hurricanes of 2004 and 2005 and tornadoes in 2006 and 2007. Direct services, Swanson said, means anything from which a family directly benefits — things like case management, helping relocate a mobile home, connecting utilities.

Some of the money will also be used to provide grants to conference churches and districts and long-term recovery organizations working in affected areas.

Swanson said the team that reviews grant applications received a request for $500,000 from one group. Another group requested more than $200,000. Swanson said it’s not possible to fund such large requests because of the volume of needs. Organizations are being asked to be more specific in their requests, prioritize their needs and partner with other groups.
Between the conference grants awarded since 2006 and those committed through December 2009, the conference is so far providing about $5 million to recovery groups, with grant amounts averaging about $40,000 each. That total includes money given by churches and individuals to the conference’s disaster recovery fund and about $4 million provided by the United Methodist Committee on Relief.

More work to do

Swanson said areas in Arcadia, Immokolee, Clewiston, and Lake, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties are still recovering from the 2004 and 2005 hurricanes, with new needs emerging every day.

A member of Covenant United Methodist Church in Port Orange works on a house in Clewiston that was damaged during one of Florida’s hurricanes. He’s part of a United Methodist Volunteers in Mission team from the church that has been working with Community Rebuilding Ecumenical Workforce (CREW), the long-term recovery organization serving Glades and Hendry counties. United Methodist churches in Moore Haven and Clewiston were instrumental in CREW’s start-up. CREW also received a grant from the Florida Conference Disaster Recovery Ministry. Photo courtesy of Covenant United Methodist Church. Photo #08-0950.

The work being done runs the gamut, from interior and exterior repairs to complete rebuilds because some homes are beyond repair. Other homes are being “mitigated” or prepped to withstand as much damage as possible from future hurricanes.

One reason so much work still needs to be done, Swanson said, is that many people affected by the storms have not been able to complete the repairs on their own.

“Economically, people aren’t able to make repairs,” Swanson said. “They don’t have sufficient insurance, and they don’t have personal resources.”

And delaying repairs has made the damage worse in many cases, Swanson said, creating serious mold issues that have made houses unhealthy and ultimately unlivable.

Many residents also do not know where to get help.

“Families don’t know where the help is,” she said. “They don’t know how to access the system; it takes them a long time to access the system.”

Swanson said the only way some families get help is by experiencing a crisis related to their health or home that alerts someone like a medical professional or code enforcement official to their need. That person in turn lets a long-term recovery organization know about the family’s situation.

Beyond money: how churches can help

Swanson says churches have to be involved in the recovery process because they are often the ones to whom families turn for help during a crisis.

“When people have reached the end of what they can do, that is when they are most open to God,” she said. “In disaster recovery, United Methodists have a wonderful opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus to those who are hurting and in need. We demonstrate our love by our actions and offer hope for the future without proselytizing.”

One of the most important ways churches can make a difference is by educating families about what help is available to them, Swanson said, especially “when someone walks in their door needing a utility bill paid.”

The disaster recovery ministry provides training for churches on the steps families must go through to get help, as well as what help is actually available, so church members and leaders can advise families on how and where to get help.

Swanson said it’s equally important that churches form partnerships with other groups because “they can’t do it solo by themselves.”

Members of Covenant United Methodist Church in Port Orange do interior repair work on a house in Clewiston. Photo courtesy of Covenant United Methodist Church. Photo #08-0951. For longer description see photo gallery.
That’s another area in which disaster recovery can assist churches — fostering partnerships between churches and community groups. Disaster recovery staff and volunteers have laid the groundwork for community-based, long-term recovery in a number of communities. And through conference grants, funding is available to help recovery groups with the work they’re doing.

“United Methodist churches are often involved with long-term recovery organizations — sitting on the board, providing volunteer housing or other assistance,” Swanson said. “In some cases, they have been instrumental in establishing the organizations.”
Swanson especially wants churches to know the conference recovery ministry “is a resource to the district office and local church and a conduit for information and communication.”
“We are here,” she said, “to offer training and support, as well as connection to each other and to the ‘bigger picture’ of disaster.”
Information about how churches can get involved with disaster recovery is available at or by contacting Pam Garrison, manager of the disaster recovery ministry, at 800-282-8011, extension 148, or

Churches or individuals that would like to donate to the Florida Conference Disaster Recovery fund may do so by sending a check made payable to Conference Treasurer, with Advance #605 in the memo line, to The Florida Conference — Disaster Recovery, 1140 E. McDonald St., Lakeland, FL 33801.

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*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.