Limited donations hamper Ike relief

Disaster response organizations try to raise public awareness of critical need following hurricane


A volunteer from CRWRC rips up the flooring in a home damaged by Hurricane Ike's storm surge in Bridge City, TX.
Credit: DNN/Joshua Drake

As Texas and Louisiana have dried out in the weeks since Hurricane Ike made landfall near Galveston, money needed to facilitate recovery efforts has also been drying up.

Relief organizations working in the area say that a lack of dollars is now the biggest challenge.

“There’s just not much money coming in,” said the Rev. Tom Hazelwood, Executive Secretary for U.S. Disaster Response for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). “There’s a little bit, but not much at all.”

He said his counterparts in other organizations have reported similar struggles as other major national stories, including the economy and the presidential elections, quickly diverted the attention of the media and the public. A week after the Sept. 13 landfall, Hurricane Ike’s effects were getting little coverage, he said.

As a result, calling attention to the need has become a priority.

“We’re working at strategic and intentional fundraising,” Hazelwood said. “It’s more than we’ve had to do in a long time.”

In the meantime, The United Methodist Church’s Texas Annual Conference ― where more than 200 United Methodist structures alone were damaged ― is doing what it can. Cynthia Harvey, director of missional excellence for the conference, said in an UMCOR release that 83 volunteer teams had registered online, and more than 60 United Methodist churches had served as American Red Cross shelters and provided other services.

Church of the Brethren Children’s Disaster Ministries volunteers have been working at five shelters in the Houston and Galveston areas, two of which remained this week. Due to continuing difficult conditions in Galveston, volunteers at that site have been traveling about 40 miles each way daily from Houston.

The program’s director, Judy Bezon, said 52 volunteers had made more than 1,200 child-care contacts through October 10.

“It’s our biggest response this year,” Bezon said. “For a single, brief response it certainly will be quite large.”

The Salvation Army, which has served more than 1.7 million meals in the region, said in a release this week that it was transitioning into more long-term recovery efforts. It planned as of Monday to begin distributing gift cards to residents of all areas affected by the hurricane.

The Salvation Army continues to operate 18 “mobile feeding units” around Galveston and to distribute food boxes and clean-up kits in the region, according to the release, along with providing emotional and spiritual care by trained personnel.

“As long-term recovery efforts are phased in, such emotional and spiritual care will become more of a necessity,” the release said.

In addition to cash, another major need that Lutheran Disaster Response, UMCOR, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, and others have been highlighting is for more flood buckets and Church World Service “Gift of the Heart” relief kits.

Most important, Hazelwood said, will be for organizations to cooperate in the face of limited funds.

“I think it’s going to be absolutely necessary that the relief agencies work together in some coordinated effort,” Hazelwood said. “Nobody is getting any funding, whether they’re faith-based or not. We’ve got to work together so we can maximize our resources.”

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