Tornado Relief: Different stages need different donations


I saw floating around FB a link to a NewsOK article (autoplay video warning) that talked about how not 100% of donations to the American Red Cross are guaranteed to go to Oklahoma. And this is a problem. While there is a solution in that donations to UMCOR are 100% given to the victims, the bigger problem is that this may affect donations to Red Cross.

Why? People may not understand that in disaster situations, there are three stages of help. And different charities, government folks, and NGOs are better at those different stages and thus different types of donations are necessary.

Stage 1: Rescue

These helpers address the immediate needs of those in a disaster situation. They save people from immediate danger, pull them out of wreckage, give them food and water, bandage their wounds, and get them out of the danger zone.

  • The primary entities are civil servants (fire, police, medical) and military personnel (National Guard, etc) and trained volunteers in disaster response. Untrained volunteers are not wanted or needed in the disaster areas.
  • Red Cross sets up Triage centers, does medical care, and immediate support for people needing help.
  • Churches and untrained volunteers help outside the disaster zone by being depots of help and assistance, not directly involved in the rescue efforts but supporting the rescuers and those taken outside the disaster zone.

Stage 2: Relief

These helpers address the short-term needs of those in a disaster situation. They set up housing, food, and support networks for the Stage 1 helpers and for the victims.

  • The primary entities are NGOs and relief organizations like the Red Cross, Salvation Army, and the United Methodist Committee on Relief (which also collects layette kits and mop bucket kits for relief help) as well as local and state governments that free up resources for relief efforts.
  • Untrained volunteers are filtered and channeled through these organizations to offer help in limited opportunities by government decision-makers
  • From an email by an OK clergy: “The Oklahoma Annual Conference is part of a cooperative effort with some organizations like the Red Cross, Salvation Army and yes even the Southern Baptists that have agreed to take on the relief responsibilities. This phase will take several days or even weeks. As United Methodists we are beginning to certify first responders which are referred to as “badged volunteers”. Other volunteers can help once the search and rescue phase is over and the clean up begins.”

Stage 3: Recovery

These helpers address the long-term needs of those in a disaster situation. They set up rebuilding roads, houses, communities, employment, work with insurance claims, and case management for disaster victims.

  • The primary entities are NGOs that specialize in helping people put their lives back together. For United Methodists, UMCOR does the case management and Volunteers in Mission does the rebuilding pieces as teams of trained and semi-trained volunteers do the hard physical work of rebuilding.
  • Untrained volunteers are helpful and can be guided. Trained volunteers lead teams of people to do the hard work of recovery.
  • This is where the United Methodists take the lead. We will send countless VIM teams to help people in this area and be the last ones out. We are still in places like Katrina’s affected communities, Joplin, and other areas long after other agencies have stopped their help.


So to the opening question, American Red Cross may not use 100% of the donations given May 20th onward to Oklahoma. But the money for their Stage 1: Rescue operations came from other donors to be able to setup in Oklahoma. We pay it forward: donations to this disaster help with Stage 1 of the next disaster. So keep your donations coming to all organizations.

But furthermore, one of the problems with my proposal from yesterday that we cancel one day of Annual Conference to help is that it is unclear if we will have transitioned fully out of Stage 2: Relief to Stage 3: Recovery. It is unclear yet if the government and NGOs will have enough channels of support yet for untrained volunteers like the masses at Annual Conference.

However, little opportunities are creeping up already that give me hope. Today this email went out asking for volunteers to clean up debris from a cemetery.  That would be perfect for AC people. So my hope is that more of these are created in a cooperative manner to channel untrained volunteers to where they would make a helpful impact.

But the truth is that UMCOR and United Methodists are best at Stage 3: Recovery. And that means that we don’t get the flashy credit like the Red Cross or even the Southern Baptists with their mobile kitchens and showers for being part of the rescue and relief efforts. But it does mean we are there the longest out of any religious organization, and we will be the last to leave.

I hope it doesn’t make us feel better with ourselves that we will be sitting there at Annual Conference with our hands in our armpits listening to reports while people need help 15 miles away. It would be little comfort to those victims that we will do more work over a longer period of time. So my hope is for a happy medium and a channel for a spirit of volunteerism at Annual Conference not only to those mission opportunities we already set up but to this current need as well.

Further action:

  • Visit UMCOR for ways to volunteer and support.
  • Text ‘RESPONSE’ to 80888 to give $10 to the United Methodist Committee on Relief.


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  1. says

    Fantastic post, Jeremy. Nicely put and exactly right as far as what the UMC is best at in response. It’s not too unlike what we do with evangelism and discipleship. We may not be as good at evangelism (short-term action) as other denominations but we are much better at discipleship (long-term action) than some of those same denominations. Of course, it would serve us well to become better at short-term disaster response as well as evangelism, but we have carved out quite a niche at this point with those long-term approaches.

  2. says

    I am a 52 year old female that had two f3 tornado’s that destroyed our home and garage. Looking for assistance for paint and other items. We had good insurance but a insurance company that has not been helpful. I am not able to work do to MS. Financial assistance is needed if this is something you offer. I am from Beaver Crossing Nebraska, our tornado’s hit our homes and town on May 11, 2014. We are in desperate need for assistance. Thank you so much.

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