A thousand miles away from the islands in the Caribbean that have been devastated by hurricanes, residents in New Jersey know all too well what it means to face adversity at the hands of Mother Nature. In October 2012 when Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc on the Jersey Shore, many were caught unaware as floodwaters raged through their homes and churches and washed away their hopes for the future.
GNJ stepped in and created A Future with Hope (AFWH) to help people rebuild. And help, they did. In fact, as of the last quarter of 2018 the total number of homes rebuilt reached 273, and more than 12 thousand volunteers made this transformation happen. During the early days of the relief stage, GNJ was instrumental in providing more than 50,000 meals, day and night shelter for more than 5,000 people and the distribution of more than 11,000 cleaning buckets, more than 3,000 health kits, tons of clothing and other material supplies such as non-perishable food, heaters, blankets, etc. The people of the United Methodist Church also rallied to clean out nearly 2,000 homes affected by the storm.
Sandy is not the only disaster affecting communities throughout New Jersey. Flooding, tornadoes, high winds and fires have led to an inordinate need for recovery efforts. With climate change dramatically affecting weather patterns and populations rising, the need is real. So far this year, there have been nine “triggering events” in NJ—five weather, three man-made and one transportation related.
Recovery is complex and costly. Every dollar and minute counts.
Today, as the airwaves flash images of destruction from storms like Dorian and recent flooding in Houston, reminders of Sandy come to the surface. A Future With Hope who was founded on the four pillars of relief, repair, rebuild and renew, is looking to develop a cohesive structure that includes specific roles for district disaster response coordinators, county roads and United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM).
“New Jersey has a strong disaster readiness structure, and we want to be sure that our membership is a functioning part of it,” said Hope Center Developer Tara Maffei. “We want to bring everyone around the table to make sure we are all working toward the next time when our communities need help. We want them to be prepared by making sure we have someone to lead the way and work in partnership with our statewide advocates in every neighborhood.”
The goal of AFWH’s proposed Disaster Relief & Recovery Program is to promote disaster recovery within the GNJ region by establishing an effective network linking state and county emergency management systems with local churches and Hope Centers.
Tom Lank, GNJ clergy person and Northeastern Jurisdiction Volunteer in Mission Coordinator, said, “Currently we have very limited capacity to train ERT’s (Emergency Response Teams) and UMVIM teams and no clear way to deploy teams. While A Future With Hope may be able to organize a response in the event of another disaster in GNJ, we are very limited in our ability to send teams out of conference to assist elsewhere.”
The proposed upgrade of its current system to a more cohesive one will build upon the ability to scale up for larger response and recovery. One of the keys is working within the county VOAD System. VOAD, which stands for Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, is comprised of local groups, interfaith partners of all denominations, nonprofit organizations and local businesses that provide coordinated relief and recovery for designated events when activated by the state or county EOC.
During Sandy recovery, A Future With Hope was an active VOAD member in all affected counties. Since then, the people of Greater New Jersey are called to participate regularly as was the case when flooding hit Brick last year.
“More needs to be done. We need to be better prepared, and towns need to be more self-sufficient,” said Maffei, who is calling on churches in the GNJ conference to be proactive in forming a more structured plan of action. She added that training is available to train volunteers from local congregations to be disaster responders.
Helping to bridge that communication is Tom O’Hearn, who is the Disaster Response Coordinator for Greater New Jersey. In his role, he activates disaster responders by district and helps coordinate training, which happens throughout the year. O’Hearn was responsible for securing the UMCOR grant to help repair homes flooded in Brick in 2018.
“We also do a lot of other things for our churches other than disaster response ministry,” said O’Hearn, who added that this past spring when rain-induced flooding affected a few dozen families in Burlington County, a group was mobilized to step in and help.
Partnership opportunities to strengthen relief and recovery efforts include grants to cover the cost of emergency generators for shelter sites as well as security assessments and cameras for faith-based partners; conferences and trainings, including active shooter, continuity of operations and first responder; and preparedness exercises and messaging. Information about these opportunities are regularly announced in the GNJ Digest.
For more information or to get involved, contact Tara Maffei.