After hurricane, faith-based groups mobilize relief teams

August 29, 2011

New York, August 29 (ENInews)--In the wake of Irene, a powerful hurricane
that crossed the eastern United States on 27 and 28 August, faith-based
groups have mobilized to bring relief efforts to hard-hit communities. The
storm caused more than 20 deaths, an estimated $3.1 billion in damages and
knocked out electricity for more than five million homes and businesses. 

"It's too early to gauge how bad the effect of Irene is," said Randy
Ackley, coordinator at Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA). "We're waiting to
get word, but we know some damage has been done."

PDA, based in Louisville, Kentucky, was prepared for the storm, according
to Ackley. It asked 25 of its presbyteries south of Delaware for
information about their disaster preparation efforts, and sent out a general
preparedness message to churches.

"PDA pre-positioned its national response team, which has about 80 members
trained in disaster preparedness and recovery," said Ackley. "These teams
help with spiritual and emotional care, but also help congregations
understand how to get involved and engaged in disasters." 

According to Ackley, PDA isn't only concerned with short-term relief. "We
don't ignore the immediate response," he said, "but we think the long-term
approach is just as important. Honest recovery takes longer than three to
six months. If you've lost your house or your livelihood, you don't recover
quickly." 

Nechama, a Jewish volunteer organization providing cleanup and recovery
assistance to homes and communities affected by natural disasters, is
deploying a team with a truck and trailer from its headquarters in Minnesota. The
team will work in the New York-New Jersey area, according to Amy Cytron, a
volunteer coordinator and development associate. 

Unlike some relief organizations, Nechama will take unaffiliated
volunteers who show up and want to help. "Our philosophy is that you can come work
with us regardless," said Cytron. Nechama offers "just-in-time" training for
whatever work is needed, and has supervisors on hand to monitor the
effort. 

Islamic Charities North America (ICNA) Relief, based in New York City,
established distribution points across the metro area, to provide food, water,
and other essentials, as well as shelter when needed. "In New York we
started with ten," said assistant executive director Mohammed Arif. "But we
reduced the number to four when it became clear the hurricane wasn't as bad as
expected."

ICNA sees two phases to its efforts: response, in which the agency
provides shelter and other immediate necessities; and recovery, which involves
cleanup, debris removal, and spiritual care. "We expect the first phase to
last two to three weeks," said Arif, "but we're unsure about how long the
recovery phase will take."

The U.S. Disaster Program at Episcopal Relief & Development (ERD) has been
in contact with Episcopal dioceses along the east coast in order to assess
the damage from the hurricane, according to a news release. "I have a lot
of confidence in the ability of dioceses to respond to the situation in
their areas, and we will be standing by to offer support as needed," said
Katie Mears, ERD program manager, in a press statement.