Spring Storm Update: When, Where and How to Help

Today, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) formally stated what folks across 18 states already know all too well – April 2011 was the most active month for tornadoes in the recorded history of the United States. According to NOAA, more than 600 tornadoes touched down last month, shattering the previous record for April (267 set in 1974) and easily besting the overall record of 542 tornadoes set in May 2003. The storms have also been remarkable this year in their scope and intensity with twisters reported from Texas to as far north as Michigan and New York. Of course, the brunt of the destruction was felt in the Southeast where at least 327 people lost their lives to the more than 300 tornadoes that hit that the region last week. Insured losses from the outbreak may be as much as $5 billion, according to catastrophic risk modeler Eqecat Inc.

With the news of such destruction, it has been no surprise that the people of the Central Texas Conference are asking how they can help those affected by the spring tornadoes. According to Laraine Waughtal, the CTC Disaster Response Coordinator, there will be ample opportunities to assist in the recovery efforts in the coming weeks and months. “Currently, trained Emergency Response Teams (ERT's) are responding to the area to help make it safer for others to arrive and help,” said Laraine. “This will be a long clean-up and rebuilding process, so there will be plenty of opportunities for all people to help.”
Please watch the CTC website for updated information on when the affected states will be inviting mission teams to come and start the rebuilding process. For those not able to travel to assist in the clean up and/or wanting to do something immediately, please see the following tips from umc.org as to how you can best lend a hand when Mother Nature strikes.
What is the best way to help in the wake of disasters like the tornadoes and floods that seem to be in the headlines daily? Should you clean out your closet and hope your castoffs will be just what people need?
The answer, quite simply, is “no.”
According to the Outfit to Go website, after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, piles of donated clothing were moldering along roadsides and parking lots in coastal Mississippi. After the 2010 Haiti earthquake, one U.S. town sent three trailer-truck loads of clothing to the island nation. Outfit to Go says it takes three days to sort and prepare the items in a tractor-trailer load of clothing – and usually at least half of the donations are unusable.
Money is the most useful.
Money allows the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) to respond in the most effective, timely manner to each unique disaster.
The Rev. Tom Hazelwood is UMCOR’s executive in charge of domestic disaster response in the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean. When interviewed following the 2010 floods in Nashville, Tenn., he said, “We say over and over again, as people give money to UMCOR for disaster response or any of our projects, that 100 percent of that money goes to the projects. … We take the money that the people in the pew give and use it to its maximum effect. The pew sitter thinks that when they give a dollar or two, it really doesn’t matter much,” Hazelwood said, “but it does. It makes a huge difference.”
One item, besides cash, that does help is a cleaning bucket, a five-gallon plastic container filled with specific cleaning supplies. UMCOR delivers the buckets to survivors and volunteers at disaster sites.
Think before you give or go to a disaster site.
After a major disaster strikes, compassionate people everywhere want to help. The UMCOR website offers the following questions to guide responses that will help rather than do more harm.
·         Is the organization reputable?
·         How much of your gift will go to disaster response and how much will be used for administrative costs?
·         If you are donating goods – has there been a direct request for these items? Sometimes it is more labor intensive and costly to process or ship donated items than it is to purchase them locally. Sending donated goods internationally becomes more complex.
·         Does a local organization know you are coming as a volunteer?  Often disaster sites are very dangerous in the initial days and weeks after it occurs. There is no structure to use volunteers or house them, and in many cases there are not enough resources like food or water for unexpected volunteers. Volunteer through a reputable agency.
You can support UMCOR’s emergency response efforts by giving to the Advance appeal related to a particular emergency or by giving to the general funds to ensure that resources are on hand when needed. Give to 2011 Spring Storms UMCOR Advance #3021326 or donate through your local church by writing a check payable to your local church and putting “UMCOR #3021326” in the memo area. One hundred percent of every gift through UMCOR goes to the designated ministry.
For more information on how the church is responding to the spring storms visit umc.org, UMCOR’s website or regularly check back to ctcumc.org.