Five Things to Do Before Rita Strikes

As Hurricane Rita approaches the Gulf states
there are five things those of not in harm’s way can do to be prepared to help
those who are. Here’s the list.

As Hurricane Rita approaches the Gulf states I asked The Rev. Thomas Hazelwood, executive secretary of the Disaster Network, United Methodist Committee on Relief, what those not in harm’s way can do to be prepared to assist those who are. Here’s the list.

Make a financial contribution to a relief organization. The reason most relief organizations request money at the start of disaster response is because they need to assess needs in order to provide appropriate material aid. As we saw in the Katrina disaster, a key issue was appropriate aid in the immediate aftermath. In addition to stockpiled material aid, agencies often need to purchase specific items and it’s more efficient to have cash available. But UMCOR will need cash for the long term when it’s not nearly so easy to get public attention and the media have moved on. Long term recovery and reconstruction are vital to success in community-building, and these stages cost money, too. So, it’s important to help UMCOR by underwriting the long-term response with finances when the emergency is getting attention.

Give appropriate material aid. Agencies will advise contributors what material aid is needed and request appropriate aid. Too often the second disaster is the arrival of tons of used clothing that overwhelm local distribution points. Given with the best of intent, this material aid is not as appropriate as particular items suited to cleanup and recovery such as personal hygiene kits or flood buckets with cleaning supplies. Each catastrophe requires particular material aid that is best determined by those on the ground. They will advise donors. UMCOR also has the ability to get these materials to affected persons in a timely manner.

Pray. Don’t minimize the importance of prayer as a communication that brings results. Prayer communicates our most personal and important concerns to God and it strengthens community in profound ways. Prayer is not only the deepest yearnings of the individual. It is also the fusion of the individual into a community bound by the common belief that God is present with us in unseen ways that both strengthen and transform us, even as we face difficult times. Prayer is unifying and healing. Don’t underestimate it, use it.

Volunteer. Through domestic disaster teams assembled by UMCOR and Volunteers in Mission, volunteer for cleanup and recovery. Later, when debris has been cleared and it’s time for reconstruction, volunteer for rebuilding work. UMCOR advises about the needs for particular skills and provides training for specialized needs. Volunteers are critical in major catastrophes and each has a role to play that fits into the comprehensive plan for recovery.

Encourage corporate gifts. Often, we overlook corporate gifts in disaster response and corporations sometimes make generous financial contributions. UMCOR benefits from corporate gifts but someone has to alert corporate decision-makers that this agency can not only receive their gifts but also will utilize them for the whole community. UMCOR provides assistance to everyone who needs it. It encourages community-based response and makes a particular effort to serve those who may be unnoticed or under-served by the government and other agencies.

As I write this Rita is approaching. The needs will be staggering if this hurricane continues to be as strong as it is presently. It’s good to know that these five options for making a difference are available, and that UMCOR is getting people in place to assist in this looming catastrophe. Rita will, no doubt, disrupt lives and take a toll on physical property.

Tom Hazelwood’s suggestions for responding to catastrophes can be heard in this audio clip.

An Interview With
The Rev. Thomas Hazlewood



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