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Disaster response ministry receives governor’s award, asks churches to prepare

Disaster response ministry receives governor’s award, asks churches to prepare

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Disaster response ministry receives governor’s award, asks churches to prepare

By Mary Lee Downey | June 5, 2009 {1027}

When a major storm hits it can take thousands of volunteers to respond to people’s needs.

That’s something the Florida Conference Disaster Recovery Ministry knows well. It deployed more than 30,000 volunteers after the 2004 hurricane season and 32,000 volunteers after hurricanes Katrina and Wilma in 2005.

Marilyn Swanson receives the 2009 Humanitarian Award from Florida Gov. Charlie Crist. Photo by Michael Wacht. Photo #09-1193.

That work and the millions of dollars the ministry has given to recovery efforts earned it the 2009 Humanitarian Award May 14 at the annual Governor’s Hurricane Conference in Miami, Fla.
Marilyn Swanson, director of Disaster Recovery, accepted the award from Florida Gov. Charlie Crist on behalf of Florida Conference staff and United Methodist volunteers across the state.

“I am very pleased that (the state’s) emergency management recognized the involvement of United Methodist volunteers and the strength of the connectional system,” she said.

Since 2004, Disaster Recovery has provided more than $3 million to 46 long-term recovery organizations for case management staffing, direct services, volunteer coordination, and materials and supplies. United Methodist volunteers provided more than 1 million hours of service. After Tropical Storm Fay in 2008, the ministry mobilized more than 270 volunteers who served nearly 3,000 hours putting tarps on roofs, mucking out flooded homes and distributing cleanup and health kits.

CREW (Community Rebuilding Ecumenical Workforce), a long-term recovery organization working in Glades and Hendry counties, was co-recipient of the award.

“Although CREW is an ecumenical organization, the United Methodist churches in Moore Haven and Clewiston were instrumental in the formation of CREW and continue to work closely with them today,” said Pam Garrison, manager of Disaster Recovery.

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 working with CREW. File photo #08-0950. Originally accompanied e-Review Florida UMNS #0894, 08/01/08.

The Rev. Thom Street, pastor at First United Methodist Church in Moore Haven, is president of CREW’s board of directors, and its executive director attends First United Methodist Church in Clewiston, Garrison said.

“Sharing the award with CREW is especially rewarding,” she said.

‘Right-sizing’ the response

Garrison says help from local churches makes Disaster Recovery’s work possible and it’s one reason churches need to have a plan in place before a hurricane hits.

“The two main things we want to see churches do is have a plan and communicate with the ministry when disaster happens, whether in their community or beyond,” Garrison said.

That communication includes letting Disaster Recovery know the church and its community need help. Then ministry leaders can share the right information with other agencies and get United Methodist volunteers to the community.

“It’s important to communicate with each other,” Garrison said. “We can ‘right-size’ the response. ... It is helpful to talk to churches because they can tell us what is needed in the affected area. We can also help churches outside a disaster area know what is needed when, instead of rushing in and adding to the confusion.”

Swanson agrees and says the conference would not be as efficient and able to serve local communities without assistance from area churches. She says ‘right-size’ means giving the right kind of help to a community without overwhelming it.

“The (governor’s) award is for the work of all the volunteers in local churches — for their response and work in long-term recovery and the deployment of volunteers,” Swanson said. “It is for our ability to respond quickly and deploy volunteers where they are needed and not burdening a community.”

Preparing now

Christians Reaching Out To Society Inc. (C.R.O.S. Ministries) in Palm Beach County is one organization that’s helping Disaster Recovery right-size its response.

C.R.O.S. is an outreach ministry of the conference that is supported by contributions from many United Methodist churches and numerous community and faith groups. It partners with 100 congregations to enable people of all faiths to work together to identify needs, collaborate with community groups and assist in creating solutions for members of the community who are in need.

C.R.O.S. just completed repairs on homes damaged during the last several major storms to hit the state — just in time for the 2009 Atlantic hurricane season, which began June 1 and ends Nov. 30.

Pamela Cahoon, the organization’s executive director, says C.R.O.S. is gearing up again to work with the Disaster Recovery team.

Volunteers attending an early response team training sponsored by Disaster Recovery participate in a teambuilding activity designed to prepare them for their role in helping survivors be “safe, sanitary and secure.” Photo by Pam Garrison. File photo #07-0581.Originally accompanied e-Review Florida UMNS #0678, 05/25/07.

“As a response to the storms, we work all over the county, setting up call centers in churches, and congregational training,” she said.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently predicted a 70 percent chance of having nine to 14 storms, with four to seven becoming hurricanes and one to three considered major hurricanes at Category 3 and above, according to its Web site.

Swanson and Garrison encourage churches in Florida to be more prepared than ever to handle upcoming storms.
“Other denominations look to us because of our connectional strength and our ability to respond quickly,” Swanson said, adding Crist, who is a lifelong member of First United Methodist Church in St. Petersburg, seemed proud of the United Methodist connectional system. When Crist shook her hand at the hurricane conference award ceremony, Swanson said he mentioned that he, too, is a United Methodist.

Garrison’s message to churches that don’t have a plan is simple. “Now’s the time to put one together, and if you need help, call us,” she said.

“Many churches saw flooding and disasters during the spring, before hurricane season began. You never know what’s going to happen — that’s why churches need a plan,” she said. “The question we always ask: if you went home today and the church wasn’t there, where would you meet on Sunday, how would you check on your congregation, and where are your church records stored?”

“Churches should make sure they have a plan,” she says, finally. “A plan to care for your congregation and to minister in the community.”

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Downey is a freelance writer based in St. Cloud, Fla.