Written by Anthony Moujaes
Donations came in rapidly and in large numbers to assist people in the Philippines put their lives back together after Typhoon Haiyan. Those generous gifts from a multitude of contributors enabled the United Church of Christ and the Disaster Ministries team to raise more than a quarter million dollars in just weeks. With gratitude, the UCC announced it surpassed its $250,000 goal on Friday, Dec. 6, with $250,641 to date.
The Rev. James Moos, executive minister for Wider Church Ministries, extended a word of thanks to UCC members, congregations and conferences that stepped up in record-setting numbers.
"We have met and are exceeding the goal, and we are deeply grateful for the generosity of our people responding to the needs of our brothers and sisters in the Philippines," Moos said. "This is a record fundraiser for us online. Contributions came in almost immediately and money is still filtering in through other sources."
It's possible that when the final dollar is counted, the UCC will have raised $275,000 in less than one month after the appeal for typhoon relief was issued on Nov. 11. The money will fund early response and initial recovery work of church partners in the region — the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, the ACT Alliance and Church World Service - to provide provisioning supplies, emergency shelter items, drinking water and money. Typhoon Haiyan (locally named Yolanda) made landfall on Nov 8, and since then donations have been steadily coming in.
In some instances, the fundraising work that took place was founded with long-standing relationships between UCC congregations and partner churches in the Philippines. Across the life of the UCC, people have demonstrated compassion by helping Filipinos who came to the U.S. in a trying time.
The Rev. Thelma B. Burgonio-Watson, transitional assistant pastor for pastoral care at St. Paul UCC in Waterloo, Ill., grew up in the Philippines and was a member of the United Church of Christ-Philippines (UCCP), a UCC partner church that has been active in relief efforts.
St. Paul UCC helped raise about $3,500 to send to relief agencies to provide supplies, food and clothing to the people of the Philippines. On short notice, a chili dinner at St. Paul raised about $1,500, which will be sent to Church World Service, with students deciding where to send the money. The UCC is a partner of CWS, a multi-denominational non-profit advocacy and relief organization. Burgonio-Watson said church members also wrote out checks for another $2,000 to donate to Disaster Ministries.
"It was overwhelming to see a small community gather and lend help to another community across the ocean, so far away from here but so close," Burgonio-Watson said.
Waterloo High School students initiated the typhoon response, aided by the Rev. James Watson, pastor of St. Paul UCC and Burgonio-Watson's spouse. The students, who raised funds for the Haiti earthquake in 2009, asked all the area churches to organize the chili dinner at the high school.
"It gathered the community together on a cold day," Burgonio-Watson said. "That was very touching to me because it was led by students. We hear the phrase, ‘A little child shall lead them.' Isn't that the truth sometimes?"
Another congregation, Peace UCC in Duluth, Minn., organized a community meal to raise money to send to UCCP colleagues.
Peace Church has a decade long partnership with three UCCP churches on the island of Mindanao. When the Rev. Kathy Nelson, pastor of Peace Church, visited Mindanao in the summer, the congregations all decided to celebrate their partnership first Sunday of Advent, which they did on Dec. 1, but because of the typhoon it became a fundraising dinner. With the help of about 100 Filipino families in the community cooking traditional meals, Peace Church raised $4,000 for the UCCP.
"We've been sending sermons and advocacy materials with each other for over 10 years," Nelson said. "We'll try to keep this in front of people. We've shared our prayers with each other, and they have sent their prayers and appreciate our partnership."