For many Floridians hit hard by hurricanes, it's difficult to know where to turn for help. That's why the UCC is offering workshops to help people figure it all out—and talk through the stress.
"These information sessions are for people who will probably become long-term unmet needs cases—those whose homes were over 50 percent damaged," says Bill Wealand, the Florida Conference's disaster response coordinator.
The sessions offer information about how the UCC can assist families with building materials and volunteer work groups, allowing families to—as Wealand puts it—stretch their insurance and [Federal Emergency Management Agency] money."
The information sessions began the first week of October, with one in Ormond Beach and two others in North Port and the Palm Bay area. Wealand adds that the workshops are not just for UCC members, but they are for anyone who wants to be there. "We re- spond to people based on need," he says.
The idea for the workshops came from Florida's UCC clergy, but Wealand is also receiving many calls from around the denomination asking how local congregations can help.
"We're hoping to establish three volunteer Ôstay' centers to host volunteer groups over the long-term," he says. Several UCC churches, including Pilgrim UCC in Port Charlotte, Fla., and Trinity UCC in Winterhaven, Fla., have agreed to locate donated modular homes on their grounds to house volunteer groups.
In addition, 40 modular homes went to Pine Island, where 60 homes have been destroyed. "They received the deed and [the homes] belong to them," says Florence Coppola, the UCC's national executive for disaster response.
"It was through the work of the Rev. Angel Toro [pastor of Chapel on the Hill UCC in Seminole, Fla.,] that the UCC was able to acquire these modular homes," Coppola says,"and Jim Ditzler [Ohio Conference disaster response cocoordinator] has been in Florida for over a month to work on this project."
After four hurricanes in a span of two months, residents are storm weary. And with a recovery process that could last three to five years, residents are stressed out.
"One of the earliest signs of stress is irritability and there is a lot of that now, understandably," Wealand says. "People are frustrated, tired and weary. Some of them have been hit three times now. We're just doing what we can to offer a little bit of hope."
Editor J. Bennett Guess contributed to this story.
More ways we're lending a hand
The UCC's Emergency USA Hurricane Response Fund has received more than $65,000 from individuals and congregations to aid hurricane victims. So far, $29,000 has been distributed to the Florida Conference and $3,000 to the Penn West Conference. The balance will be used for unmet needs as part of the UCC's long-term recovery commitment. Contribute online at ucc.org/disaster. $15,000 from the UCC's One Great Hour of Sharing special mission offering has been sent to Church World Service as part of the UCC's ecumenical commitment to disaster relief.
The UCC's Local Church Ministries has contributed $50,000 to the Florida Conference's response efforts.
The UCC Insurance Board has contributed $25,000 to the UCC's Emergency USA Fund and is assisting local congregations damaged by the storms.
The Florida Conference is providing low-interest loans for church rebuilding and repair, and the UCC's Cornerstone Fund and Church Building Revolving Loan Fund have offered loan payment deferments to affected congregations.
The Rev. John H. Thomas, UCC general minister and president, will lead a retreat for Florida clergy, Dec. 5-7, in response to pastors' spiritual and pastoral care needs.
Many churches have organized volunteer work groups to assist with reconstruction. Interested congregations should contact Jay Richards at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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