For individuals and congregations across the United Church of Christ wondering how they can help the victims affected by Hurricane Harvey… disaster coordinators are urging them to assemble cleanup buckets and to send donations to the denomination's emergency appeal — two components that will be crucial to the long-term recovery from the storm's destruction.
UCC Disaster Ministries Executive Zach Wolgemuth is heading to Texas next week to survey the affected areas, and will meet with South Central Conference Minister the Rev. Donald Longbottom, Conference Disaster Coordinator the Rev. Mona Lopez, and several pastors in the impacted region.
“This is absolutely historic flooding, and it certainly is catastrophic," Wolgemuth said. "The disaster continues to unfold and projections of the number of impacted businesses, homes and families has been climbing exponentially over the past several days. We are going to see a lot of unmet needs out of this event and are counting on the church to support these efforts for the marathon that we will be facing.”
The UCC issued an emergency appeal to help with the long-term recovery effort, encouraging donations — 100 percent of which will go toward people affected by the storm. Later, the church will call volunteers during a recovery phase of 5 to 6 years.
Church World Service, a faith-based disaster recovery and humanitarian organization and a UCC partner, is distributing emergency cleanup buckets —but only has 1,800 in stock, and needs to replenish its stores as these cleanup kits will be in high demand across the areas affected by Hurricane Harvey. (For context, 8,000 buckets were distributed following Hurricane Matthew last year.) The buckets, after donations, one of the greatest items of immediate need, contain about $75 worth of items, and information about the complete list of items and how to assemble the kits can be found on the CWS website.
Lopez noted that the Houston suburb of Cypress was flooded, home to the UCC congregation Christ United Church, with anywhere between 2 inches and 5 feet of rain. "It’s widespread and devastating," she told UCC disaster executives. "I think Houston can be a real example of community response in today’s negative national climate. We have a very important mission and duty in this catastrophe. We grow deepest in our darkest moments. We rise when we have opportunity. I hope we get it right.”
The UCC national officers echoed Lopez's words, in a public witness, in which they urged the wider church to express compassion and demonstrate a love of neighbor, but also challenged public officials to acknowledge the impacts of climate change on natural disasters and to support the long-term recovery effort.
"Recovery work is about rebuilding in community and for the sake of community," they said. "We know from experience in other places that long-term recovery can either strengthen bonds of mutual relationship or reinforce previous patterns of discrimination. It can either further justice and equity or tarnish these sacred values. The voices and concerns of those most vulnerable or excluded must be our guide."
More information about the UCC's ongoing response to Hurricane Harvey is posted on the UCC website.