United Methodists invest in Sandy recovery

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United Methodists in New York were counting on the regional shipments of 15,000 flood buckets that they distributed to Hurricane Sandy survivors last fall.

But they didn’t expect the more than 11,000 blankets from a faraway source, said Bishop Martin McLee, leader of the denomination’s New York Annual (regional) Conference.

“There was this wonderful call, asking if we would receive blankets from Russia,” McLee told directors of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries on April 11 as he recounted the conference’s relief efforts. The United Methodist Committee on Reliefis a part of the mission board.

Both McLee and Bishop John Schol, leader of the United Methodist Greater New Jersey Conference, spoke to the mission agency about the challenges and opportunities that have arisen since the hurricane turned “superstorm” made a significant impact on the Northeast coast.

In New Jersey, where 253,000 households sustained damage and tens of thousands of homes were left uninhabitable, Sandy was the most destructive storm in the state’s history. In the New York area, 269,640 applications have been made to FEMA for federal assistance.

To help meet these needs, UMCOR has allocated much of the $8.35 million it had received in Sandy donations by early March.

On April 12, UMCOR directors approved $3 million grants to both the New York and Greater New Jersey conferences, to be delivered in six-month installments. The Peninsula-Delaware Conference received $500,000 for its Sandy recovery work in Somerset County, Md. Another $500,000, not yet approved, has been earmarked for the Methodist Church of Cuba, which is preparing its grant proposal.

In addition, UMCOR allotted $825,759 to New Jersey and $42,000 to Peninsula-Delaware for repairs to church property damage from Sandy. Those grants represent 10 percent of the funds raised for Sandy relief.

In a further gesture of solidarity, the mission agency’s directors took part in a Sandy workday April 13, assisting at two sites in New Jersey and in New York.

Continue to support recovery

Sandy recovery work will continue for the next few years. To support funding through UMCOR,
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‘A Future with Hope’

Greater New Jersey has established a comprehensive long-term Sandy recovery plan overseen by a nonprofit organization — called “A Future with Hope” after words found in Jeremiah 29:11 — with a projected budget of $21.8 million. In addition to support from UMCOR, the conference has created its own fundraising appeal.

During the relief phase, the conference distributed food, clothing and basic supplies, including flood buckets, to more than 10,000 people, along with daytime or overnight shelter to some 5,000 affected by Sandy.

The larger task is now beginning, Schol pointed out. “The long-term recovery is where we really begin to put our efforts,” he said.

Greater New Jersey’s recovery ministry focuses on three goals: to repair, rebuild and renew, in cooperation with community residents, churches, other nonprofit groups as well as local, state and federal agencies.

The repair of 300 to 500 Sandy-damaged homes, particularly for the elderly, disabled and low-income households, is expected to require assistance from more than 20,000 trained volunteers.

“We are the biggest player (for recovery work) in New Jersey,” the bishop said, noting that Habitat for Humanity has committed to 150 houses. The conference’s Sandy project would not be possible, he added, without the support of UMCOR and the church’s volunteer-in-mission networks.

Rebuilding will extend beyond homes to community centers and churches. Other direct assistance to the most vulnerable will be provided in the form of materials, donations and services. “Rebuilding the social fabric of a community is essential,” the conference’s grant proposal declared.

Renewal will focus on the emotional and spiritual toll that Sandy took on people’s lives. Greater New Jersey expects to provide case management and counseling for more than 500 families during the next several years.

‘Holy moment’

In the New York Conference, United Methodists and related volunteers — nearly 2,000 of them — already have prepped more than 300 houses for repairs or rebuilding by pumping out water, removing debris and mold and replacing insulation and flooring.

New York’s project goal for the new grant is to help about 500 families, with “a specific target” of 175 households. Five recovery sites — in Massapequa, Freeport and Rockville Center on Long Island, on Staten Island and in Brooklyn — already have been established. The conference also wants to set up a site in Connecticut, where more than 13,000 homes were damaged in Fairfield, New Haven, Middlesex and New London counties.

New York will use the grant to support its disaster recovery ministries and staff as it provides case management; restores, repairs and rebuilds homes with the help of volunteers-in-mission and offers ongoing spiritual care to persons in the affected areas.

“A case manager will engage each survivor and will sit and be like a friend,” said the Rev. Joseph Ewoodzie, New York Conference disaster coordinator.

UMCOR staff and consultants have worked closely with the New York Conference on its Sandy response, the report said, and “see opportunity” for program expansion if the recovery work is successful and more funds become available.

Other Sandy damage

The Peninsula-Delaware Conference will use its grant to help 50 to100 families in the town of Crisfield and Somerset County, Md., rebuild their homes and their lives. United Methodists there already have partnered with other churches and organizations and are coordinating with the Somerset Long Term Recovery Committee.

Working through the conference’s volunteer-in-mission coordinator, they hope to support and deploy 175 teams with a total of 3,000 volunteers during a two-year period for the Sandy recovery work in Maryland.

UMCOR previously made a number of small grants for Sandy relief work soon after the disaster, mostly in November 2012. Those distributions included $10,000 grants to the New York, Greater New Jersey, Peninsula-Delaware, Eastern Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Virginia annual conferences, to New York Interfaith Disaster Services and to the Methodist Church in Cuba.

Other early Sandy grants included another $50,000 each to the New York and Greater New Jersey conferences, $30,000 to Action for Churches Together’s appeal for Sandy and Tropical Storm Isaac and $100,000 to UMCOR’s Sager Brown Depot to replenish cleaning supplies.

Linda Bloom is a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter based in New York. Follow her at http://twitter.com/umcscribe. Contact her at (646) 369-3759 or[email protected].

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