Written by Emily Mullins
Hurricane Sandy has come and gone, but the effects continue to be felt as 17 states in the Eastern U.S. begin the long road to recovery. Despite the challenges ahead, the United Church of Christ wants everyone to know it's here to help for as long as help is needed.
"When the first responders and the TV cameras go home, the church is here to stay for the long haul of rebuilding homes and lives," said Florence Coppola, UCC executive of national disaster ministries. "Our main role in a disaster is long-term recovery and that is yet to come."
Since the storm hit last week, the UCC national setting has raised almost $28,000.00 for relief efforts, primarily through online donations. Phyllis Richards, UCC program associate for global sharing of resources, expects this number to rise as power is restored in more areas of the country and donations begin to come through standard mail. The UCC will direct 100 percent of all donations received toward long-term, community-wide disaster relief efforts spanning across all 17 affected states.
In addition to collecting donations, the UCC national setting is working with UCC conferences and their disaster response coordinators to provide some immediate emergency assistance using money from the One Great Hour of Sharing special mission fund for Hurricane Sandy. Some local churches have received $2,000 solidarity grants to repair damage not covered by insurance, help members in serious need, or support community-based programs like food pantries and shelters. Sandy funds were used to purchase three large generators that were delivered to shelters in West Virginia, and $5,000 was donated to Church World Service to support the transportation of blankets, baby kits, personal hygiene kits, school kits and cleanup buckets.
One Great Hour of Sharing money was also used to purchase 1,000 sets of personal protective equipment that include hazmat suits, goggles, gloves and respirators sent to Community Foodbank in Hillside, N.J., to distribute to communities as they begin cleanup efforts.
"We are giving little grants now, but the main money we are raising will go to communities for long-term recovery," said Coppola, adding that organizations like The Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) fill the immediate role of emergency assistance. "We try not to use all of our money up front so we have some for the long term."
UCC President and General Minister, the Rev. Geoffrey A. Black, also sent a letter to each UCC pastor in the affected areas offering sympathy and prayers and reminding them of the church's commitment to help.
While the national setting has not yet heard from all of its churches, some good news to come out of such a tragedy from early reports is that no UCC churches seem to have experienced major damage. This positions these buildings to serve as shelters, food banks and other relief locations, like First Parish Church UCC in Jamesport, N.Y., Greenpoint Reformed Church UCC in Brooklyn, N.Y., Norfield Congregational Church in Weston, Conn., and Connecticut's United Congregational Church UCC of Bridgeport.
In the coming weeks, the UCC will continue to monitor the recovery effort in all 17 affected states and address the needs and requests of local churches as they come in. Coppola said the UCC could reach out to areas beyond New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, which suffered the most devastation, and fill in funding gaps for areas that may not be receiving as much assistance. However, Coppola urges people not to send unsolicited items like food and clothing, as most organizations do not have the extra personnel to receive, organize and distribute such donations. She also stresses that volunteers should not travel to the East Coast unless they are part of a solicited emergency volunteer group. The UCC will post volunteer opportunities as they become available.
"Our commitment is to keep people aware of the needs as they change and to respond daily as they arise," Coppola said. "Things change on a daily basis – the future is a big unknown."