Providing help, hope in any disaster

In recent years, my family has spent the New Year’s holiday with friends near Belleayre ski resort in New York’s Catskills region.

This year, as we drove around the area, two things were different: the lack of snow and the visible signs of the destruction wrought by Tropical Storm Irene four months earlier.

At least one insurance company, citing the earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand, has called 2011 the costliest year yet in terms of losses from natural disasters, with a total economic cost near $380 billion, compared to the Hurricane Katrina-related 2005 record of $220 billion.

Those are big numbers to throw around, but they don’t tell the real story. As we made our way along Route 28 and traveled back roads between Phoenicia and Woodstock in the Catskills, the real story became apparent. It is the struggle — for some of the people who live there — to recover from another blow to their shaky financial existence.

That’s the story in Haiti, too, which is marking the second anniversary of a disastrous earthquake that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and left up to 1.5 million homeless.

The good news is that United Methodists have committed themselves – through the United Methodist Committee on Relief and in other ways — to assisting in that struggle in both places.

The denomination’s New York Conference, for example, had a firm commitment to Haiti before the earthquake, particularly in the farming village of Furcy, as my colleague Kathy Gilbert has documented. Conference teams have continued to fly to Haiti and the Rev. Tom Vencuss, who previously led the New York Haiti mission, is the on-site coordinator of all United Methodist Volunteer-in-Mission teams arriving in Haiti.

In August, after Irene’s floodwaters swept through the Catskills, pastors in the area were among the first to mobilize, and conference volunteer teams spent the next few months “mucking out” homes, churches and other buildings in towns like Margaretsville, Fleischmanns, Lexington and Prattsville.

“Thanks to each of you for all of your hard work and spirit as we try to help ‘Rebuild Prattsville’ with more than just shovels and sheet rock,” team member Jud Radmaker wrote in an Oct. 27 update.

As of this week, $304,365 had been raised for the New York Conference Catskills response, but as was pointed out, “the needs are far greater than this sum will address.”

The money helps, but the connections are more important – connections with skilled persons able to donate their expertise; connections with volunteers willing to lift a shovel or paint a wall; connections with trained case managers who can help survivors put their lives back together; connections with those simply available to share faith, love and support.

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