HIGHSTOWN – The need in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria is personal for many in GNJ as congregations and surrounding communities have significant numbers of people with strong family ties to the island. From these concerns, GNJ United Methodists created Esperanza (Hope) for Puerto Rico, a grassroots effort to bring relief and resources to those struggling through the storm’s devastating aftermath.
Working directly with Bishop Hector Ortiz of the Methodist Church in Puerto Rico and coordinating with UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief), churches raised funds and gathered supplies. In October, Sam Perez, a member of Bishop Jane’s UMC in Basking Ridge met Ortiz at the airport in San Juan to deliver a $50,000 check to provide immediate relief and supplies.
Since then, leaders have organized a food, fund and supply drive as part of a Service of Thanksgiving held on November 19 at First UMC of Hightstown. The service, led by Hector Burgos, Director of Connectional Ministries, was live-streamed in Puerto Rico and featured a greeting of thanks from Ortiz. The fund and supplies drive raised an additional $50,000 for Puerto Rico and resulted in 27 pallets of food and six pallets of Christmas toys which are being shipped for deployment to the island.
“The beautiful people in GNJ are overflowing with abundance for the people of Puerto Rico and have declared that Puerto Rico will rise again,” said Burgos at the service. “We are working with Bishop Ortiz to develop facilities and avenues for mission teams to get to work in Puerto Rico rebuilding homes and renewing hope.”
In addition to the funds raised for Esperanza for Puerto Rico, GNJ churches have:
- Donated more than $350,000 to UMCOR for hurricane relief for Irma, Harvey and Maria.
- Donated time and resources assembling relief kits (flood buckets) and hygiene kits, and designated two depot sites at Good Shepherd UMC (Southern NJ Hub) and Skylands Outreach Depot (Northern NJ hub). Thousands of these kits have been assembled and delivered to UMCOR’s mission center for distribution in affected areas.
- Held an early response team training in October which quickly overbooked, resulting in a second session scheduled for November and more scheduled for 2018. Early response trainings equip team leaders to take volunteers on mission trips in affected areas to muck out homes and buildings and offer relief to those in most need.
- Engaged key staff members with peers in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico to offer advice on organizing and deployment.
- Deployed Tara Maffei, from A Future With Hope, to Texas to participate in equipping early responders.
Churches around the region are preparing teams to deploy to Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico in 2018 to start the rebuilding process.
Several Early Response Team (ERT) Training sessions will be held in January, March, and April of 2018. Visit www.gnjumc.org/disasterresponse for event details, dates, and further information.