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Relief agency calls for response to churchwide appeal

12/4/2003 News media contact: Linda Bloom · (646) 369-3759 · New York

By Linda Bloom*

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Hurricane Isabel created a breach on North Carolina Highway 12, isolating the Village of Hatteras (N.C) on Sept. 18. The breach is 1700 feet wide and 10 ft. deep. North Carolina Conference Disaster Response delegation viewed the damage on Sept. 23. A UMNS photo by Bill Norton. Photo number 03-508, Accompanies UMNS #581, 12/4/03

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Downed trees and power lines were common in Baltimore and other East Coast cities after Hurricane Isabel. Massive power outages left thousands of people without electricity. A UMNS photo by Melissa Lauber/UMConnection. Photo number 03-509, Accompanies UMNS #581, 12/4/03
NEW YORK (UMNS) - When Hurricanes Lili and Isidore damaged the home of an 88-year-old Louisiana woman this year, members of First United Methodist Church in Slidell made repairs and built a wheelchair ramp.

In Kokomo, Ind., church volunteers removed carpet and tile from a woman's flood-damaged home, assisted her with an aid application to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and installed new carpeting and tile.

Home repairs and rebuilding by United Methodist volunteers have occurred throughout the Jackson, Tenn., area following a May tornado there.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief supported these relief efforts and many more as a variety of natural disasters - including the recent Hurricane Isabel and southern California fires - plagued the United States in 2003. The agency is a unit of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.

However, a lack of funds is severely restricting the agency's ability to continue responding to such needs. The relief agency's "Churchwide Appeal for USA Domestic Disasters," launched in October, had only drawn in tens of thousands of dollars in donations by early December, far short of an anticipated $2 million goal.

As a result, making decisions on Hurricane Isabel recovery work in Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina is difficult, said the Rev. Tom Hazelwood, the agency's domestic disaster coordinator.

"What I'm really concerned about is we can hardly get off the ground with Isabel," he said.

Hazelwood noted that local pastors often are the main channels for funds raised by the United Methodist Committee on Relief, and he urged them to hold a special offering for the churchwide appeal during Sunday services.

"If the people in the pew know what the needs are, I think they'll support it," he said. "Too often, we don't give them the information." He added that such special offerings usually do not detract from regular Sunday offerings because church members "know it is second-mile giving."

Local churches can obtain information on the appeal by logging onto, the agency's Web site. Items that can be downloaded from the site include a bulletin insert, brochure, appeal letter and two newspaper ads.

Most churchwide appeals bring in an average of $3 million to $4 million, according to Hazelwood. The appeal for Hurricane Mitch in 1998-99, which devastated parts of the United States, Caribbean and Central America, brought in nearly $12 million.

The Churchwide Appeal for USA Domestic Disasters covers disaster relief for those affected by Hurricanes Lili and Isidore, which hit Louisiana within days of each other; the 500-some tornadoes that ripped through the Midwest and the South; spring and summer flooding and wind damage in Florida; summer flooding in Indiana, Ohio and West Virginia; and Hurricane Isabel, which caused damage in North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland in late September.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief has distributed nearly $1.5 million to the denomination's U.S. annual (regional) conferences for disaster response work since September 2002 and already had requests for another $1.1 million in funding before Isabel hit.

Some smaller conferences, even those with strong United Methodist communities, simply don't have the resources or ability to generate funding for disaster relief. "They are dependent upon UMCOR to support whatever response there is," Hazelwood said.

Money raised by the appeal becomes part of the agency's domestic disaster fund, which also will be used for any future recovery work related to the California fires. "We're still really evaluating what the long-term response is going to be in California," he added.

Donations should be designated for "Churchwide Appeal for USA Domestic Disasters," UMCOR Advance No. 901670. Checks can be dropped in church offering plates or sent directly to the United Methodist Committee on Relief at 475 Riverside Dr., Room 330, New York, NY 10015. Credit-card donors can call (800) 554-8583, and online donations can be made at the Web site listed in this story.
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*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

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