NEW YORK – The United Methodist Committee on Relief Support urged local pastors to commit them and their congregations to the “Churchwide Appeal for USA Domestic Disasters.” The appeal, launched in October, had drawn in tens of thousands of dollars in donations by early December, far short of the anticipated $2 million goal.
Such shortages paint a gloomy picture for the victims of the scores of natural disasters that hit the nation in 2003.
Millions were affected by hurricanes Lili and Isidore, which hit Louisiana within days of each other; the 500-some tornadoes that ripped through the Midwest and the South; spring and summer flooding and wind damage in Florida; summer flooding in Indiana, Ohio and West Virginia; Hurricane Isabel, which caused damage in North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland in late September; and brush fires that scorched hundreds of acres in California.
According to Tom Hazelwood, the UMCOR’s domestic disaster coordinator, the lack of funds is severely restricting the agency’s ability to continue responding to these needs. Making decisions in lieu of such shortages, particularly on Hurricane Isabel recovery works in Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina has been especially challenging.
"What I’m really concerned about is we can hardly get off the ground with Isabel," he
Hazelwood noted that local pastors often are the main channels for funds raised by the United Methodist Committee on Relief, and he urged them to hold a special offering for the churchwide appeal during Sunday services.
"If the people in the pew know what the needs are, I think they’ll support it," he said. "Too often, we don’t give them the information." He added that such special offerings usually do not detract from regular Sunday offerings because church members "know it is second-mile giving."
The United Methodist Committee on Relief has distributed nearly $1.5 million to the denomination’s U.S. annual (regional) conferences for disaster response work since September 2002 and already had requests for another $1.1 million in funding before Isabel hit.
Some smaller conferences, even those with strong United Methodist communities, simply don’t have the resources or ability to generate funding for disaster relief. "They are dependent upon UMCOR to support whatever response there is," Hazelwood said.
Money raised by the appeal becomes part of the agency’s domestic disaster fund, which also will be used for any future recovery work related to the California fires. "We’re still really evaluating what the long-term response is going to be in California," he added.
Most churchwide appeals bring in an average of $3 million to $4 million, according to Hazelwood. The appeal for Hurricane Mitch in 1998-99, which devastated parts of the United States, Caribbean and Central America, brought in nearly $12 million.
Hazelwood urged local churches to obtain information on the appeal by logging onto http://gbgm-umc.org/umcor, the agency’s Web site.