Flood Response Grows out of Local Church Outreach
By Susan Meister*
After the severe flooding in western Washington State in late 2007, Brett DeMond heard that people needed help. And although she had no prior experience in disaster response, she stepped right in. "I was doing ‘case management’ before I even knew what it was," she smiled.
DeMond is a member of Rochester UMC, a local church known for its benevolence and outreach. Her pastor, Jerry Henrick, put her in touch with George Abrams, disaster response coordinator for the Pacific Northwest Conference. Abrams, in turn, funded DeMond and fellow church member Susie Hawes to begin outreach in Lewis and adjacent Thurston Counties through an emergency grant from the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). He also arranged for UMCOR consultant Larry Powell to come to the area to lead case management training.
Although the area is in its early stages of recovery, DeMond, Hawes and the emerging network of Long Term Recovery Committees are making a difference for the homeowners devastated by the flood through a case management approach. Case managers walk alongside survivors of natural disasters to help make connections between needs and resources so that they can rebuild their lives.
Case manager gives homeowners hope in difficult circumstances
When DeMond first met homeowners Margo and Aubrey, they were near despair. "The newly-remodeled two story farmhouse in which they’d lived for twenty-five years was reduced to an uninhabitable shell in a matter of hours during the Chehalis flood," she said. "I visited them in their small apartment stacked with equipment needed for the kidney dialysis Aubrey administers to his wife five days a week. Margo wept quietly throughout my visit, saying before I left ‘all we want is a home.’"
During her first visit, DeMond shared information and added the couple to the church’s prayer chain. The next time she spoke with Aubrey, he was optimistic and grateful, saying he now has hope. Fellow case manager Susie Hawes has networked resources to fund his wife’s life-sustaining prescriptions and other medical supplies, and DeMond and Hawes are working with the couple to address other funding, construction and housing needs, including referrals to pertinent resources and coordinating volunteer labor.
DeMond continued, "When I told him we had put him on our prayer chain Aubrey said ‘That’s where the power comes from! We have to remember who made the ground we walk on.’"
Disaster response grows out of existing outreach ministry
Hawes, also a member of Rochester UMC, was attracted to the church because of its active Benevolence Committee. Led by Gene Weaver, the church pursues multiple avenues to help its community.
"When the storm hit, we were shocked by the scope of it and the Benevolence team felt an immediate need to respond," Hawes said. "We helped a couple of families, and then our pastor put Brett in touch with George. They connected, and our whole concept of casework and benevolence broadened beyond our previous imaginations.
"It was exciting to truly understand the scope of what volunteers and faith based organizations can achieve," she continued. "This is an amazing ministry. If it were not for the generosity of church members throughout our country and the world, then we would not have had this opportunity to help our neighbors."
Long term recovery organizations being developed
Consultant Larry Powell is working with Abrams to submit grant applications to UMCOR for additional funds to assist with case management in cooperation with the Washington Interfaith Disaster Response Organization (WIDRO). Dave Baylor, WIDRO director, is working to set up long term recovery organizations in five of the most affected counties.
Dick Balnicky, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) representative, is complementary of the role of faith based organizations in the flood response. "There is good cooperation between the church groups," he said. "They are truly part of the team and deserve credit for doing the job as disaster response professionals."
The damaging flood of December 3-4 on the Chehalis River in western Washington State was caused by exceptionally heavy local rainfall, resulting in what U.S. Geological Survey scientists said was a 500-year event. As of March 2008, more than $72.5 million in disaster assistance has been approved to help Washingtonians recover from the storms, according to officials with Washington Emergency Management Division (WA-EMD), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the US Small Business Administration (SBA).
United Methodist Volunteer in Mission (UMVIM) Coordinator Rhonda Cordillis ready to match volunteer teams with the need in Lewis, Thurston and surrounding counties. For more stories about the flood response, go to the Pacific Northwest Conference website and its Channels publication.
Gifts to Domestic Disaster Response, UMCOR Advance #901670, will support UMCOR’s response to the flooding in Washington State and other disasters in the United States.
*Meister is the Domestic Disaster Response Correspondent for UMCOR