Lutheran Disaster Response

Our response to disasters in the U.S. and around the world; look for sections of this blog related to specific disaster locations. Comments are welcomed and moderated.

Hurricane Isaac: When the Cameras Move On

Posted on April 29, 2013 by Pastor Michael Stadie

August 29, 2005 is a day that is seared into the memory of the people in the New Orleans area. That was the day Hurricane Katrina made landfall. Exactly seven years later, on August 29, 2012, Hurricane Isaac impacted the same area. Isaac was not as powerful as Katrina, and the primary area of damage was a bit different from that of Katrina’s. But as I often say, “It may not be a huge disaster, but to the people impacted, it was a life changing event.”

I visited the areas impacted by Isaac about a month later. Plans were being made to help the families recover from the storm. The Monday after my visit, Super Storm Sandy hit the East Coast (October 29). Since then, the majority of the disaster community’s attention has been on our Sandy response. This past week, I returned to New Orleans to check on the state of the recovery after Isaac. You see, we at Lutheran Disaster Response are concerned about all those impacted by disasters; we are committed to helping communities recover even when they are not in the media’s attention.

Through our affiliate, Lutheran Social Services of the South (LSSS), we are working to provide disaster case management in two of the twenty-six Parishes receiving these services, namely St. Tammany and Washington. Washington Parish has some 27% of the households living below the federal poverty level and nearly 24% of the population has a disability. Due to all of the economic and storm related stress, St. Tammany has recently experienced a rash of suicides. So while there are other areas of need in the state, by focusing on these two Parishes, LSSS will be making a huge impact on the lives of those affected by Isaac.

Our local Program Director is Jessica Vermilyea. Jessica, along with Mark Minick from LSSS, has many years of experience working in the Louisiana area following Katrina. They are uniquely positioned to be able to navigate the complex nature of this recovery since many of the people impacted by Katrina were also impacted by Isaac.

Some of the unique challenges to this recovery work include the fact that homeowners are facing high deductibles, from 3 to 5% of the cost of their homes. Many of the people did not receive any assistance from FEMA because either they were not able to keep up their flood insurance because of cost, they did not know they had to do so, or because insurance companies are asking for Katrina repair verification before paying claims. This verification can be a difficult thing to come up with—how many of us can find all of our home repair receipts from 6 years ago?

Despite these challenges, Mark and Jessica are hopeful they will be able to help dozens of people with their recovery, help people return to their homes, help people find the new normal for their lives. While the country has shifted its attention to many other disasters, we at Lutheran Disaster Response US will not forget the people impacted by Hurricane Isaac—please join us in remembering these folks in our thoughts and prayers.

Camp Victor in Metamorphosis

Posted on March 6, 2013 by Joseph Chu

Camp Victor, Ocean Springs, Mississippi

Camp Victor, Ocean Springs, Mississippi

For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under the sun. Ecclesiastes 3:1

I had the chance to visit Camp Victor at Ocean Springs, Mississippi, twice in the last three months and was deeply moved by its leaders and the ministry each time.  Camp Victor in its current location was started by Christus Victor Lutheran Church in 2006 as the continuation of its disaster recovery ministry for communities affected by Hurricane Katrina and Rita.  Not only has it been a sizable hospitality center, housing volunteers engaged in disaster recovery work, it has also been a service center providing case management and construction management for those deeply affected by the disasters. Here are some facts about Camp Victor: 

  • It is housed in a county-owned 50,000 square foot box-shape building located in the middle of the tourist district of Ocean Springs, MS. It formerly belonged to the Swinger Garment Factory.
  • It has dormitories and beddings for up to 250 volunteers.
  • Through the years, it has received 50,000 volunteers from 50 states and 20 countries.
  • Together, volunteers have provided 1 million service hours on more than 2,000 homes, translating into $19.5 million worth of labor.

Hurricane Irene/Tropical Storm Lee: You are the SALT of the Earth

Posted on March 1, 2013 by Joseph Chu
From Left: Marriane Roberts, SALT Staff; Pr. Joe Chu, LDR; Pr.  Elaine Berg, Conference Dean, Josh DeBartolo, Schoharie Recovery Inc. Director; Pr. Sherri Meyer-Veen, SALT President; Sarah Goodrich, SALT Executive Director; Ken Dingee, SALT Staff; Patsy Glista, Upstate New York Synod Assistant to the Bishop.

 From Left: Marriane Roberts, SALT Staff; Pr. Joe Chu, LDR; Pr. Elaine Berg, Conference Dean, Josh DeBartolo, Schoharie Recovery Inc. Director; Pr. Sherri Meyer-Veen, SALT President; Sarah Goodrich, SALT Executive Director; Ken Dingee, SALT Staff; Patsy Glista, Upstate New York Synod Assistant to the Bishop.

Committee meetings are rarely interesting material for storytelling. But how a meeting is conducted and how participants interact with one another during the meeting can help tell the bigger story of the personalities of those involved and the level of their collective accomplishments. In the past few months, I have had the opportunity to attend and observe a number of Long Term Recovery Committee meetings that seek to help those affected by disasters in various communities. I am truly amazed by how different these committees can be: Some are highly organized and effective and some are dominated by one or two strong personalities. Unfortunately, some are still finding ways to become a coherent body after a long period of time.The board meeting of Schoharie Area Long Term (SALT) at Cobleskill, New York, in the early morning hours of February 5, 2013, definitely belongs to the first kind – highly effective and exciting.

Hurricane Sandy: Volunteer Stories from Eastern PA

Posted on February 19, 2013 by Matthew Ley

In the US, Lutheran Disaster Response carries out our recovery work through a network of 39 affiliates located across the country. These affiliates are really the major strength of our program, allowing us to respond locally from a local perspective. One of these affiliates in Pennsylvania is Liberty Lutheran, whose disaster ministry Lutheran Disaster Response – Eastern Pennsylvania, has been helping coordinate volunteers in response to Hurricane Sandy and flooding from last year’s Hurricane Irene/Tropical Storm Lee.

To help share about this work they recently sent out a great print piece highlighting some of their volunteers and why they dedicate the time. It’s a quick read that really gets at the heart of why we’re engaged in this vital and active ministry. Check it out below and follow the links to learn more about the individual stories.
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Since the devastating impacts of Hurricane Sandy, many generous volunteers and donors have come forward to help Lutheran Disaster Response, Eastern Pa., (LDR-EPA) make a vital difference in the lives of our neighbors who were affected.

Here are just a few examples of people who are working hard to assist those in need:

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Scot - LDR-EPA For Scot Guldin, volunteering with LDR-EPA has brought his family closer. “We often take time out after volunteering to do some scripture reading and reflect on the day. My daughters are very good, sharing people, and I think it’s because of experiences like this” he said. “It’s the right thing to do.”

Click here to read more about Scot

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Ken - LDR-EPAAfter Hurricane Sandy, Ken Nygard wanted to help, so he joined LDR-EPA volunteers for a full day of cleaning up homes in Bucks and Montgomery County. “I enjoyed connecting with other people who wanted to do good. It was a very rewarding experience. I felt like I was a part of a solution.” Ken said.

Click here to read more about Ken

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Stan - LDR-EPA Stan Wilhelmson volunteers locally with LDR-EPA, and has traveled places such as Mississippi and Tennessee. “These disasters are acts of nature. We become the acts of God,” he said.

Click here to read more about Stan

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Learn more: Lutheran Disaster Response – Eastern Pennsylvania

Hurricane Sandy: Disaster Response 101

Posted on February 8, 2013 by Matthew Ley

In the U.S. Hurricane Sandy made landfall on October 29th, 2012 in New Jersey. That makes yesterday 101 days since this event and I figured it was a good time to check in with where we’re at with the response. Now some people really do better with process and others prefer stories. So I’m going to present this in two ways: first by looking at where we sit in the “typical” flow of a disaster response and then by sharing the story of Lutheran HealthCare in New York and how they’ve been affected and responded to Sandy. Feel free to read both or to jump to your preference.

By the Numbers
Those experienced with disaster work like to use a simple tool for explaining the process of disaster response known as the “Rule of 10″. This rule states that as you move through the first three phases of disaster response (incident, immediate response and recovery) the average individual or community will take ten-times longer to move through next phase than it took to move through the previous one. The incident phase is focused on securing safety and involves activities like rescue and first responders. The immediate response phase is focused on setting a secure foundation and involves activities such as assessment, demolition and initial clean up. The recovery is focused on helping people and communities regain their new sense of normal and involves activities like muck out and rebuilding. The benefit of volunteers increases as you move through these phases, with recovery being the greatest phase of volunteer impact.

For Sandy, most people were in the incident phase for two weeks (14 days), meaning the average length of immediate response will be 140 days (4.7 months) and the average length of recovery will be 1400 days (3.8 years). When you add in the nor’easter that hit the region in November, the holiday season and the potential snow storm hitting the east coast this weekend, the definition of what is “average” begins to change and the movement through phases can slow down. So as we sit at 102 days out, the average person and community is about 90 days into the immediate response phase, working to set the firm foundation upon which they can rebuild. Each community and individual was affected differently, so those really affected by the external circumstances may be still in the earlier parts of immediate response while others may already be transitioning into recovery.

Yet wherever a community or individual is at they are their because of the amazing efforts made by individuals, many who will forever remain in the shadows, who have stepped up to give of time, talents and resources. Which brings me to the second part of this post.

Lutheran HealthCare
Lutheran HealthCare is situated in southwest Brooklyn, NY and is no stranger to this churches disaster response work. After the massive earthquake struck Haiti in 2010, Lutheran HealthCare raised nearly $12,000 to support relief efforts their. They also took in many Haitians because of the strong Haitian presence in their already diverse staff of around 5,000. So when Sandy struck they responded, receiving in evacuees from the surround community. And though scattered throughout the five boroughs of New York City with closed roads and shutdown public transit and over 100 employees personally affected by the storm, staff were finding any means necessary to get to work, like $50 cab rides. Many of the staff were working double and triple shifts, sleeping at the hospital, yet making sure needs were being met.

And this generosity was not just from the staff to the community but internal as well with over 250 days off (about $75,000 worth) transferred between staff to members who had destroyed or damaged homes. They also had a massive amount of internal in-kind donations of needed items. They have also raised over $40,000 in financial donations, which were seeded by Lutheran Disaster Response. They also hosted 2 prayer services and support groups through mid-November.

As they and their community move through the immediate response phase they are continuing to be present by offering crisis counseling through Project Hope, a program of FEMA, and case management to help individuals navigate the opportunities for recovery available to them. As they move into recovery they will continue to be there, because really they were already their, living and working in the community to which they belong. And this is the strength of our work, that wherever we respond we are responding locally, from within the community on behalf of the community.

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Gifts to ELCA Disaster Response allow the church to respond domestically and internationally in times of need. Donate now.

New Resource: Hurricane Sandy Situation Report #3

Posted on January 15, 2013 by Matthew Ley

A new situation report giving an update on the situation in the northeastern United States and Caribbean as well as the ELCA’s response is now available. Some of the highlights are the joint Lutheran World Federation-ELCA delegation which visited New York and New Jersey in late November/early December as well as the strong outpouring of support from ELCA members, with donations topping $2.4 million. Please help us spread the word of how the ELCA is engaged in the response and what people can do to help.

Here is a link for your convenience: Hurricane Sandy Situation Report #3 (January 11, 2013)

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Gifts to ELCA Disaster Response allow the church to respond domestically and internationally in times of need. Donate now.

Crisfield, MD: Field Report

Posted on January 14, 2013 by Joseph Chu

More than a century ago, Crisfield, Maryland, was the “Seafood Capital of the World.” Although its commercial fortune has declined through the decades, it is still a very beautiful small seaside city along the eastern shore of Maryland. On October 29, Crisfield and the surrounding county of Somerset were hard hit by Super Storm Sandy.. Hundreds of homes were damaged and destroyed. Yet, unlike their neighbors in New York and New Jersey, they have been largely overlooked by the media.

In mid-December 2012 I had the opportunity to visit Crisfield, hosted by Pastors Cindy Camp, Phil Huber and Thom Sinnott, our LDR affiliate in the area. On this trip I was able to listen to and learn from local residents and leaders about how they have responded to Sandy.

As is the case with disasters, some of the problems after the event are not really new but are heightened issues which existed prior to the disaster. A couple of these I learned about in Crisfield, were in regard to its demographics as one of the poorest and most ethnically segregated areas on the eastern shore of Maryland. Nearly 20% of residents live below the poverty line (as compared to 9% statewide) and over 42% are African American. This has led to a significant amount of ethnic tension which runs the risk of creating more roadblocks on their road to recovery; Some of the ways this potentially plays out in communities are that the most vulnerable often do not have access to adequate information on how to seek help. And the segregation between groups often prevents the formation of effective Long-Term Recovery Groups, which are the backbone to disaster recovery in communities.

Group visiting with members of Somerset County LTRG. Back row (l-r): Pastors Cindy Camp, Phil Huber, Thomas Sinnott. Front row: key leadersLTRG(l-r): John Phoebus, civic leader, and Rev. Frances Fitchett, Pastor, Shiloh United Methodist Church and President of the Crisfield Ministerium.

Yet, as is also the case in disasters, there resides the opportunity for the Spirit to break through and new opportunities and ways of being to emerge. One such occasion in Crisfield is work of our affiliates Diakon Lutheran Social Ministries and Lutheran Partners in Disaster Response (LPDR). These organizations, were active in this area soon after the storm connecting with the community. Spearheaded by Pastors Phil Huber and Thomas Sinnott, they have also worked diligently to reach out to the different ethnic, religious and civic groups within the community, with the goal of facilitating the formation of a Long-Term Recover Group.

This hard work has begun to pay dividends when in December the Somerset County Long Term Recovery Committee was formed with a membership that truly represents the diversities of the community. This group will work in collaboration to other civic groups, government agencies and churches to provide case management, volunteer support and other vital function to assist families and individuals affected by Sandy on their road to recovery. Our hope and prayer is that this committee will not only be an effective community based organization helping affected residents and family to find their “new normal,” but will also be a forum for community members to have meaningful discussions about their common challenges and shared future.

Year End Thoughts

Posted on December 31, 2012 by Pastor Michael Stadie

On this last day of the year, many people take the time to reflect back upon the past year. I would like to take a few minutes to do so as well.

My first thoughts go to those who were impacted by disasters. Along with my thoughts, my prayers are with them. While we have had some very large disasters, ones that were in the news for many days at a time, I also want to remember the “small disasters.” No matter the size of the storm, to those they affect, they are huge and life changing.

I think of those who volunteered. So much of disaster recovery work is done by volunteers, and most of the time, there is little recognition of them or their efforts. One only needs to look at the smiles of a family able to move back into their home after a disaster to know the value of volunteers and how much they are appreciated.

I also think of those who are part of the Lutheran Disaster Response network, especially the local coordinators. We simply cannot do our work without them as they are the “boots on the ground” that provide the local connections so essential to effective recovery efforts.

None of us knows what disasters will come in 2013; we hope and pray they are few and far between. But when a disaster does strike, we at Lutheran Disaster Response will be ready to provide a measure of help, hope and healing through our network and volunteers.

Hurricane Sandy: Accompaniment in Action

Posted on December 19, 2012 by Joseph Chu

As many of us are still struggling to make sense of the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, I have been reflecting on what it means to truly be present for people in the midst of their tragedy, to walk with them, to accompany them. These questions brought to mind the recent ELCA delegation to the East Coast to express our solidarity with those affected by Superstorm Sandy.

From November 30 and December 2, the delegation visited communities and congregations affected by Superstorm Sandy in New York and New Jersey. What stuck out to me and what made this visit particularly momentous was that it is the first time in our church’s history where the delegation was accompanied by leaders from three Lutheran church bodies from around the world. Representing the Lutheran World Federation as the “living letter of comfort and hope” were the Bishop Elisa Buberwa of the Northwestern Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania; Bishop Cindy Halmarson, of the Saskatchewan Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada; and the Rev. Dr. Veikko Munyika of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia.

As a member of the ELCA delegation, I feel particularly honored to have had the three leaders riding with me during those four days. It was a privilege to get to know them on a more personal level and to deepen my appreciation for their dedication to being the “living letter” of accompaniment. To begin with, all agreed to take part in this delegation and its intense schedule with very short notice and graciously embraced the very packed visit, despite their jetlag. But what most moved me was in every congregation and community we visited, these three leaders would listen and listen and listen, listening and embracing the pain, anger, uncertainties and the hope expressed by those who were directly or indirectly affected. Joining Bishop Hanson and our ELCA colleagues, they would ask the questions: What has changed for you in the last few weeks? What has given you hope? What do you want to see in the near future?

In thinking through the experience several moments came to mind that highlighted the impact and importance of the trip:

Bishop Halmarson addressing Metro New York bishops conference.

  • Bishop Halmarson from Canada was actually a native of Connecticut. Her down to earth style and affinities with the affected communities made her pastoral embrace particularly effective and meaningful for all. On a number of occasions, she commended the ELCA for the willingness to accept our vulnerability by receiving the pastoral visit from leaders of the Lutheran communion. Such actions help deepen the meaning and reality of accompaniment throughout our worldwide communion. On a more personal level of accompaniment, Bishop Halmarson took on the role of navigator, guiding me through the busy streets and bridges of New York and New Jersey as I drove the unfamiliar terrain.

Bishop Buberwa addressing Metro New York bishops conference.

  • On the first day, Bishop Buberwa was the preacher for the morning worship service at the pastor’s retreat of the Metropolitan New York Synod (MNYS), with which his diocese has a companion relationship, before our visit to affected areas. Before he preached, Bishop Buberwa gently presented a check to Bishop Rimbo on behalf of the people from his Diocese in Tanzania. That simple act of giving by fellow Lutherans from across the globe saw a lot of teary eyes around the room. The next day, I joined Bishop Buberwa at the same table when we gathered at Zion Lutheran Church, Staten Island to listen to the community. In the middle of the conversation, he asked a very simple yet important question in his soft spoken and compassionate voice, “How about the children?” That question generated rounds of very lively discussions among those around the tables. It is heartening to hear the resilience of children and how all of them learn to care for others in the aftermath of the event.

Rev. Dr. Munyika surveying the damage on Staten Island.

  • Dr. Munyika from Namibia was on his first trip to the U.S. and expressed it was very impactful for him. He recalled how he and his compatriots felt extremely isolated during their struggle for independence several decades ago. In the midst of feeling completely shunned by the world community, he discovered members of the ELCA and our predecessor bodies were actively supporting their cause. That act of accompaniment gave them hope and renewed their strength. For this visit, he promised to share what he heard and saw with the wider Lutheran Communion when he returned home – not only the stories people heard from the news media, but more importantly the stories of those whom he touched and heard.

It is always good to know that we have friends, not only in our neighborhoods and backyards but also in all corners of the earth through our Lutheran communion and beyond. Through these individuals and communities the presence of Christ is made manifest in our lives as we walk in the valley and the shadow. These acts of accompaniment are truly a gift.

Hurricane Sandy: The Art of Giving & Receiving Thanks

Posted on November 16, 2012 by Matthew Ley

On the way to work this morning I heard a really great report on NPR about the ways people are supporting the response on the East Coast to Hurricane/Superstorm Sandy. It was discussing how in-kind, material gifts are handled and how they affect the process. The overall point of the report was that even though in-kind, material donations are a great sign of the amazing giving nature of people in this country they may effect relief efforts in unintended ways.

One of the main reasons for this is that without knowing the specific needs of those affected by disaster in-kind gifts like water, food and clothing may not end up being needed but will still have to be sorted, processed and stored. Running the risk of taking away energies from other relief efforts. Also, many of the organizations who are carrying out the relief and eventual recovery efforts are also able to acquire better deals for needed items because of bulk purchasing and special agreements with vendors. In the end the article lifts up that financial contributions, though seemingly less tangible, actually are the most useful type of support.

The report also had a short piece at the end about a woman who was looking for a way to say thank you to the National Guardsmen who had helped her after she found out her home was destroyed. When she asked what she could do to thank them, they said nothing, that they were happy to help. So she decided to share the gift of homemade baked goods as a way of expressing thanks. This highlighted for me an important point for those who choose to give of their time by volunteering after a disaster.

As we help those affected by disaster, part of responding to the whole person is giving them the space and ways to give thanks. This is not to say we are to demand, nor even to expect, expressions of thanks, but that by giving someone the space to give thanks when they request it is actually allowing them a way to feel a part of their own recovery. For many the gift of being able to give proper thanks will mean as much to them in their recovery process as the fixed roof over their head, new clothing and/or restored power. I think it is one of the deepest and most difficult ways we are called by Christ to be neighbor.

Please take time to read/listen to the report and to think about how we can all best support the efforts on the East Coast and following future disasters. Want To Help Sandy Victims? Send Cash, Not Clothes (NPR, November 16, 2012)

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Gifts to ELCA Disaster Response allow the church to respond domestically and internationally in times of need. Donate now.