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Reflections from the 2023 National VOAD Conference

A group of 10 people posing together in a ballroom.

LDR staff with members of the LDR national network.

At the beginning of May, five Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR) staff members attended the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD) conference in St. Louis, Missouri.  

NVOAD is a coalition of community-based, faith-based and nonprofit disaster response organizations throughout the United States. Its purpose is to serve as a forum in which organizations can coordinate responses. In addition to the more than 70 national member organizations (including LDR), there are also VOADs at the state and local levels. 

The NVOAD conference is an opportunity to network with other disaster organizations and attend various workshops, plenaries and vendor exhibitions. Pastor Matthew Zemanick, Program Director for LDR Initiatives,  was one of the presenters for a session entitled “The Power of Place, Historical Trauma, and the Lifting up of Cultural Humility in Disaster Response.” 


Reflections from LDR staff:

“This was my first time attending the National VOAD Conference, which had a record-breaking year with over 800 participants! It was amazing to see and notice how passionate the member organizations are about their work in disaster and love what they do. It helped me personally to see a bigger picture of how diverse the groups were and how important it is to have existing relationships with NVOAD members in the blue-sky times. My favorite time was connection with our LDR Community of Practice Members over meals and meeting with some of the LDR partners in person for the first time. It was a meaningful experience in many ways from networking, to making connections, to building new relationships, and being part of important discussions.”  

-Zaya Gilmer, Program Manager, LDR-US 


“The NVOAD conference was a wonderful opportunity to connect with new and long-time members of the LDR network. It was great to see people in person, to build and strengthen relationships, and deepen the bonds between LDR, our colleagues, and the institutions that provide humanitarian relief around the world.” 

-Sean Coffman, Program Director, LDR Networks and Training 


“This was my first NVOAD conference and I continue to be grateful for the opportunity to have learned alongside the wide range of partners and organizations involved in responding to disasters. I’ve come to this work from parish ministry and community chaplaincy in an environmental justice community. As someone who grew up with a single mom who was a nurse, for me, one striking parallel between both the environmental justice movement and the VOAD movement is the amount of people with working-class backgrounds in leadership. Representation matters, especially when disasters disproportionately impact working-class and impoverished households. I am humbled and honored to be surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, which gives me tremendous hope in the ways the Spirit is guiding us.” 

-Pr. Matthew Zemanick, Program Director, LDR Initiatives 



Hunger Policy Podcast: May 18, 2021


We know that hunger is not just a matter of food but a matter of policy. Public policies impact where our food comes from, the kinds of food we eat, how we acquire food – and what our options are when we don’t have enough. In this new kind of post for the ELCA World Hunger blog, John Johnson, director of domestic policy for the ELCA, joins Ryan Cumming, program director for hunger education with ELCA World Hunger, for a conversation about hunger and policy, including important public policies that could impact people experiencing hunger and poverty in the United States. Links to both the audio and the video are below.

Interested in more conversations like this about hunger and policy? Are there specific public policy issues you’d like to hear about? Let us know! Email to share your feedback and ideas.

Subscribe to the ELCA World Hunger blog, and sign up to join the ELCA’s network of advocates.

(If you are one of our regular subscribers to the ELCA World Hunger blog and reading this via email, the audio and video files may not show up. Just click on the title of the post to head over to the main blog webpage to listen in.)


New Video Discussion Guides Available from ELCA World Hunger

ELCA World Hunger supports ministries around the world and here in the United States that are committed to ending hunger and poverty for good. Nothing quite captures the stories of God’s work in these communities quite like videos where viewers can hear directly from the participants and leaders.


Videos are also great tools for education forums, temple talks or Sunday School. To help with this, we have put together video discussion guides on ELCA World Hunger’s two newest videos: “Robyn’s Story” from Massachusetts and “Kanchan’s Story” from India.

Each guide features discussion questions and an outline of a “think-pair-share” model for conversation that can deepen your time together. Each guide also features snippets from ELCA social teaching documents that can help your group connect the stories in the videos with their Lutheran faith.

The guides are designed for study group sessions of up to 45 minutes, though they can be adapted for shorter sessions. The information in them can also be used to guide short temple talks to highlight the work our church supports together through ELCA World Hunger.

Robyn’s Story – Northampton, Massachusetts

Hunger and poverty are symptoms of a deeper brokenness within communities that leaves many of our neighbors without access to the resources they need. Ending hunger in the long-term means both providing food now – and restoring supportive, mutual relationships for the future. At Cathedral in the Night, a ministry supported by ELCA World Hunger, guests come together for worship, prayer and food to be fed spiritually and physically.

In this video, military veteran Robyn describes how the community at Cathedral in the Night has helped him rediscover and grow his gifts. In the process, he is able to meet his needs and emerge as a leader within the community.

This video discussion guide focuses on Robyn’s story and the challenges faced by many military veterans, who are often denied access to the services and support they need to thrive after their service.

Kanchan’s Story – Madhya Pradesh, India

Hunger and overall health are closely tied together. Without sufficient nutrition, children, especially, are at much higher risk of illness and death. Without sufficient healthcare, illness and injury can take time away from work and other productive activities, putting families at higher risk of hunger. Through Padhar Hospital’s Tripti project, healthcare professionals and community members are working together to end this cycle for good.

Kanchan, one of the participants in the project, shares how the project helped her get the care she needed for her son and learn how to best care for him. The video also features staff from the project sharing what their work means for the community at large.

This video discussion guide focuses on the connections between health, education and hunger by diving deeply into Kanchan’s story and the Tripti project – and helps study groups discern together the tremendous impact ministries focused on health can have.

You can find both of these guides – and other video discussion guides – at

For questions on the video discussion guides or other ELCA World Hunger resources, please contact Ryan Cumming, program director of hunger education, at