Ecumenical Disaster Response takes Shape in Oklahoma

May 30, 2013

(adapted with thanks & permission from article written by Rev. Brandon Gilvin, Associate Director, Week of Compassion)
The dust is still settling in Oklahoma.  Massive tornados struck several communities, large and small, on May 19th and 20th, and the damage has been devastating.  Communities like Shawnee, Carney, New Castle, Little Axe, and Moore have been featured in national news segments, and stories of resilience and survival continue to resonate throughout the world.  
Through your partnership with One Great Hour of Sharing, you have been there.  Your generosity has already provided support to families who have been displaced, provided clean-up and other supplies to folks whose neighborhoods have been destroyed, and is bolstering the formation of long term recovery groups across the area.
This week, staff from UCC National Disaster Ministries, Disciples Week of Compassion & Volunteering, joined UCC Kansas/Oklahoma Conference Minister Edith Guffey, Disciples General Minister and President Sharon Watkins, and Transitional Regional Minister Dean Phelps, have been on the ground, checking in with those affected, identifying potential partners and resources, and imagining along with the community what recovery and a post-tornado “new normal” might look like.
Along with touring the damage, the delegation was able to meet with a group of interfaith leaders convened by local UCC pastors, a group of pastors and church leaders from Oklahoma Disciples churches, as well as representatives from FEMA.  UCC and Disciples congregations not damaged by the storm—have been at the forefront of caring for the community, providing care and resources to those affected.
As Florence Coppola, executive of UCC national disaster ministries, noted, “From the stories that were shared and the things that we witnessed, it is clear that folks  are working their way back “home” not really knowing exactly where that will be or what their community will look like.  Among the ruins that were once their home searching for precious photos and wedding rings goes on amid tears of joy and pain.  One home owner told me that they shared their storm shelter with six neighbors and when they emerged nothing was left of the homes on that block it was all on the ground.  She smiled at me and said, ‘I don’t know how I would be able to live with myself if I could not have helped my friends.’”   
According to many reports the storm impacted just under 4000 homes, businesses and non-residential buildings in Cleveland, Lincoln, McClain, Oklahoma and Pottawatomie counties. Of those, 1248 were destroyed, 452 sustained major damage, and 640 sustained minor damage.  Communities from across the socioeconomic spectrum were impacted in many ways, and will need ongoing support in terms of long term recovery.
Josh Baird, director of Disciples Volunteering, noted, “From the stories that were shared and the things that we witnessed, it is clear that folks do not need bottled water (cases are dropped on the sidewalk for passersby on nearly every block in some communities), nor are they ready for ‘spontaneous volunteers’ (one affected community of 650 people had 1,000 folks show up to help last Sunday alone). They do need prayers, financial gifts, and patient partnering as they look toward a recovery that will last several years.”
Conversation after conversation was marked by an infectious hope.  “Just you watch,” one pastor reflected.  “We’re going to recover.”  
It will take prayers, resources, coordination, the work of many volunteers, and right now, patience and time for these communities to recover.  With the generous support of UCC members and friends, we will be able to do more than just watch.  We will be able to bring healing and hope over the long haul.
How YOU Can Help
1.  Pray for the people and communities impacted by tornados and storms. 
2.  Make a gift payable to your congregation marked for Tornados/ Storms, with the request it be sent through your Conference Office on to United Church of Christ, Financial Services, 700 Prospect Avenue E, Cleveland, OH 44115.
3.  Send gifts, payable to United Church of Christ and marked in the memo portion Tornado/ Storms, to United Church of Christ, Financial Services, 700 Prospect Avenue E, Cleveland, OH 44115.
4.  Make a secure on-line donation to the Emergency USA fund.  Donate Now.  Please note: Tornados/ Storms in the comment section.
5.  Assemble Church World Service clean up kits which are urgently needed.

Ms. Phyllis Y. Richards
Program Associate, Global Sharing of Resources
700 Prospect Ave.
Cleveland, Ohio 44115