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How faith-based groups are leading America’s disaster relief efforts

(Sarah A. Miller/Tyler Morning Telegraph via AP)

Nearly 75 percent of organizations helping the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) rebuild communities are faith-based groups. In tragedy, churches are not just donating money and supplies to disaster zones, they’re setting up warehouses, sending trained relief volunteers, counseling victims, and are in the trenches trying to help people rebuild their lives.

The government and faith-based organizations have coordinated their efforts to bring relief to disaster affected areas. In a crisis, congregations work together and discuss specific relief tactics with FEMA to streamline the rehabilitation process.

The role that these religious groups have in natural disaster relief efforts are seldom mentioned. The CEO of the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster told USA Today, “About 80 percent of all recovery happens because of nonprofits, and the majority of them are faith-based.” But he says that it’s not just Christian churches providing aid, other faith groups like Islamic, Buddhist, and Jewish organizations are on the front line of disaster relief as well.

Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian humanitarian aid group, has been providing relief to victims of both Hurricane Harvey and Irma, which hit the Florida coast. Their organization’s role does not only provide supplies but mainly helps those who have property damage. The group sends its experts to affected areas with debris removal tools like chainsaws, mud clearing kits, and roofing materials to help victims fix their houses or businesses.

Seventh Day Adventists Church are experts on warehousing materials. The Church works with FEMA to collect, file, organize, and distribute emergency food and clothing supplies to victims. FEMA helps the group by finding a location near the devastation to set up the warehouse, and the church volunteers then handle the donation inventory and give the supplies to the victims. Other Christian organizations specialize in feeding victims by bringing numerous trailers filled with food to disaster zones.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief sends volunteers to help victims understand their options after losing their belongings, house, or business. The volunteers evaluate property damage and counsel victims on which state aid programs and FEMA funding they qualify for.

In addition to their day to day contributions, the foot soldiers behind natural disaster relief efforts are of high cash value to the states. According to FEMA’s guide to disaster assistance once a federal financial aid package is approved the state is responsible for matching a percentage of the funding. Volunteers help offset this cost to the state. FEMA allows states to count volunteer hours, at a rate of $25 per hour, towards matching the aid package price, even though they are not compensated for their time. Luther Harrison, a leader of the North American Ministries for Samaritan’s Purse, told USA Today that their organization has already raised more than $675,000 with their hours of contribution to the state of Texas, following Hurricane Harvey that killed more than 70 and displaced 1 million people as well as ruined 200,000 homes.

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