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United Methodists keep focus on Haiti


4:00 P.M. EST Feb. 19, 2010 | NASHVILLE (UMNS)

Some 3,000 volunteers 
gather at Jefferson Forest High School in Forest, Va., to pack meals for
 Haiti earthquake relief. UMNS photo by Bob Merkle.
Some 3,000 volunteers gather at Jefferson Forest High School in Forest, Va., to pack meals for Haiti earthquake relief. UMNS photo by Bob Merkle.
View in Photo Gallery

The overwhelming response to assist the people of Haiti is an inspiration across The United Methodist Church.

More than 3,000 people lined up to participate when the Rev. Larry Davies, a United Methodist district superintendent in Lynchburg, Va., set up an emergency meal packaging event for Haiti on Jan. 18.

“We booked the largest high school in the area and the word kind of got out on Facebook, and it went nuts,” he said. “We had a bus come in from two counties away. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. People just literally came from everywhere.”

The event’s goal of 100,000 meals was more than doubled. Within a week, the meals were shipped to Haiti through Stop Hunger Now, a hunger organization led by the Rev. Ray Buchanan, a United Methodist pastor. By Feb. 15, Davies said, the district finished raising the $51,000 needed to pay the shipping costs.

But United Methodists in the Lynchburg area didn’t stop at one event. Churches also donated money to the United Methodist Committee on Relief and prepared health kits for the UMCOR Depot. There were so many kits that they threatened to overflow the church serving as a distribution center for four districts. “They shipped out a record number,” he added. “They just totally filled up the truck.”

That is the type of enthusiasm that church-related relief groups hope can be sustained for what all agree will be a long-term recovery in a country devastated by poverty and an earthquake-damaged infrastructure.

UMCOR, which has raised more than $12 million for an expected five-year recovery plan in Haiti, has opened a field office in Port-au-Prince. “Recruitment efforts are ongoing for key staff,” said Melissa Crutchfield, an international disaster response executive with the agency.

New UMCOR staff in Haiti

Anthony Jones, who will be in Haiti for the next two months as UMCOR’s emergency response consultant there, arrived in the Dominican Republic on Feb. 17 and addressed an assembly of Methodists before he was to enter Haiti on Feb. 19.

Since the earthquake, UMCOR has coordinated food distribution projects in Mellier and Petit-Goave. Representatives from UMCOR and United Methodist Volunteers in Mission will attend a conference of the Methodist Church of Haiti next week “to further consult with them about partnerships,” Crutchfield said. Goals will include setting priorities for relief projects and possible work opportunities for volunteer teams.

United Methodists are supporting the relief agency’s work.

A young volunteer takes
 a break from packing meals for the people of Haiti.
A young volunteer takes a break from packing meals for the people of Haiti.
View in Photo Gallery

Church members in the denomination’s New England Conference raised $143,000 for Haiti within a month after the earthquake.

Included in that total was $1,150 raised through a spaghetti supper organized by 9-year-old Riley Alward, with assistance from fellow congregants at First United Methodist Church of Laconia-Gilford in New Hampshire.

Among the responses from partner agencies, Church World Service and other members of Action by Churches Together have assisted more than 150,000 Haitians with immediate needs since Jan. 12. Church World Service has provided more than 31,000 hygiene kits, some 5,400 baby care kits and about 4,000 blankets. Through IMA World Health, the agency also has provided 60 boxes of medical supplies.

The focus is now turning toward the “medium-term response,” said Donna Derr, the agency’s director of emergency response and sustainable development. “For us, that’s been an expansion of the pre-disaster program we were doing with people with disabilities,” she explained, adding that the program will serve more clients in nine communities.

Church World Service also will help two centers for at-risk children find new space or rebuild their earthquake-damaged facilities and assist with food security and development programs for about 63,000 migrants from Port-au-Prince to Artibonite, Derr said.

Concern over rainy season

Haiti’s upcoming rainy season this spring remains “a huge concern for all of us,” she added. Church World Service may partner with Habitat for Humanity on housing for families they have assisted with temporary shelter, she said.

At the United Nations, Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro echoed the concerns about the rainy season during a Feb. 17 regional coordination meeting for Latin America and the Caribbean. Noting that more than 1.2 million Haitians are living in temporary settlements, she asked U.N. agencies and offices to work quickly together to support reconstruction efforts there, according to a U.N. report.

Haiti’s crumbled infrastructure also is at risk."The rains will also pose a threat to infrastructure," Lutheran World Relief reported on Feb. 17. "On the road between Port-au-Prince and Jacmel, there are large piles of dirt that have been pushed aside by bulldozers. After the first heavy rain, these areas will become a mess and possibly make the road impassable again."

Back in Lynchburg, enough money remains to allow the district youth to do a smaller meal-packaging event for Haiti over the weekend. The 210,000 meals packaged earlier through the project that Davies organized “are already in Haiti and being used,” said Buchanan of Stop Hunger Now.

His organization has shipped a million meals to Haiti since the earthquake and has about 2 million more “in the pipeline,” he added.

In addition to church groups, Stop Hunger Now has collaborated with more than 50 organizations to send relief supplies, including the Friends of the U.N. World Food Programme.

Davies – who has retained an e-mail list of the January volunteers, more than a third of whom are not United Methodists – is hoping to rekindle enthusiasm for another event to benefit Haiti relief.

“We’ve just got a community that really wants to pitch in and help,” he said.

UMCOR has guidelines on how to assist with Haiti disaster response at http://new.gbgm-umc.org/umcor/work/emergencies/ongoing/haitiearthquake/haitifaq/.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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