$46 million in relief

A demolished building barely stands in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria devastated the island. Puerto Rico was already reeling from Irma when Maria made landfall Sept. 20, 2017, as a Category 5 hurricane, bringing with it 175 mile-per-hour winds and 40 inches of rain. ~umns photo/Gustavo Vasquez

UMCOR grants respond to last year’s events including a $16.8 million grant for Puerto Rico.
LINDA BLOOM
United Methodist News Service

A new round of grants from the United Methodist Committee on Relief — including $16.8 million to the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico — will build upon the denomination’s response to Hurricanes Maria, Irma and Harvey.

Approved April 13 by UMCOR’s board of directors, the more than $46 million in grants also will further assist recovery efforts related to last year’s Northern California fires and the historic 2016 flooding in Louisiana.

Hurricane Maria, which struck Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, was the worst storm to hit the island in 80 years, and its aftermath created a humanitarian crisis. 

During a Facebook Live event announcing the grants, Thomas Kemper, top executive of UMCOR, and New York Area Bishop Thomas Bickerton, UMCOR’s president, talked briefly about their visit to Puerto Rico in December. Kemper also is the top executive of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, UMCOR’s parent agency.

Bishop Hector Ortiz led the group that distributed food and water in the central area of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria ravaged the area. ~umns phogo/Rev. Gustavo Vásquez

Both were impressed with the resiliency of the Puerto Rican people and their determination to do what had to be done, even when no help was available. “We saw Puerto Rican citizens with shovels, shoveling out major highways where mudslides had covered the road,” Bickerton recalled.

The church, he said, must keep the recovery of Puerto Rico “on the front page” and continue to ask “for the resilient determined efforts of United Methodists across the globe.”

Bishop Hector Ortiz has been appreciative of that response from the beginning. “With the support of UMCOR and our churches in The United Methodist Church, the annual conferences and bishops, we can rebuild Puerto Rico,” he said during the Facebook Live event.

Much of the hurricane-related grant money will be used to fund the second phase of relief work.

Last fall, for example, UMCOR had approved a $3.6 million grant for the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico and assisted with the delivery of eight cargo containers of supplies, for a total of $5 million in support.

A $15.5 million grant approved April 13 will allow that church’s “Reborn, Revive, Rebuild” project to move into the recovery phase, which local and federal authorities estimate will take more than a decade.

The goal is to aid 900 households through case management in 15 municipalities. The construction, health and educational components include the rebuilding of 450 houses, and funding of five health clinics and 14 tutoring centers.

“The plan design is technically impressive while ensuring the church reaches out to the most vulnerable of the island’s population,” wrote Catherine Earl, UMCOR’s director of disaster response and U.S. partnerships, in her assessment of the grant application.

The Methodist Church of Puerto Rico also received $1 million to repair 39 churches destroyed or damaged by Hurricane Maria. 

Earl told UMCOR’s director that the agency is helping the church there feel empowered to do relief and recovery work. Glorymar Rivera-Báez leads that work as the project director. “They have amazing personnel,” she added. “They’re a pleasure to work with.”

To make a donation directly to UMCOR’s US Disaster Response, use Advance #901670.

To make a donation to the International Disaster Response, use Advance #982450.

A third UMCOR grant of $373,513 for Puerto Rico will allow for three additional positions for the church’s disaster recovery staff. A construction manager for residential repair, a communications professional, and a monitoring and evaluation specialist will help enhance the delivery of service to both survivors and communities.

While the Puerto Rican church’s recovery work does not cover the entire island of Puerto Rico, “they’re focusing their attention where it can be most effective,” Earl said.

After Puerto Rico, the next largest grant went to the denomination’s Florida Conference. The $8 million will support the second phase of the conference’s Hurricane Irma recovery programs through 2020 and help increase the necessary staffing for ministries across a broad part of Florida. The conference previously received an initial $1 million grant for Irma relief work.

“There are a number of partners doing work, but they (United Methodists in Florida) are very highly regarded in the quality of their case management and construction efforts,” Earl said.

The Florida Conference also was approved for an additional $300,000 grant — bringing the total to $500,000 — to assist displaced Puerto Ricans who relocated to Florida after Hurricane Maria.

The Rev. Laura Ice (left), recovery coordinator for the Florida Conference, works through claim paperwork with Nirmala Narayan in February. Narayan’s home in Sebring was the first case opened by the conference’s case managers in Central Florida after Hurricane Irma devastated the area. ~umns photo/Deborah Coble, Florida Conference

In the continued response to Hurricane Harvey, the Texas Conference will receive a $4.8 million grant and the Rio Texas Conference will receive a $5 million grant.

The previous recipient of a $1 million-plus grant, the Texas Conference will use its new grant to assist 280 households “with safe, secure and sanitary housing.”

Both conferences did “a great job” after Harvey  “in responding to initial needs and securing homes and reaching out to partners,” Earl said.

Proper case management, she added, “is critically necessary so they can vet the cases and get a proper assessment so they can get to the rebuild phase.”

Louisiana suffered a one-two punch over the last couple of years. Historic storms caused historic flooding in August 2016 in the southern part of the state. A year later, rains from Hurricane Harvey caused extensive flooding in several parishes in the southeast. Grants of $1.06 million and $1.58 million will help the denomination’s Louisiana Conference further assist those affected.

The California-Nevada Conference will use its $1.3 million grant to support recovery from the 2017 wildfires that devastated parts of northern California in 2017.

 

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