Responding to Disaster – Wherever it Comes

Responding to Disaster – Wherever it Comes


Long-term recovery is just that . . . long.

Saturday, October 29 marked the fourth anniversary of Superstorm Sandy’s devastating arrival on the northeastern shoreline. On that weekend, communities throughout New York and Connecticut gathered to remember, offer support, and recognize both the achievements and the challenges facing the continuing recovery effort.

For too many families the anniversary represented the fourth year they have been unable to return home, or worse – the fourth year of living in damaged, moldy, unsafe conditions. Heading into their fourth winter since Sandy, there are still several thousand families who have not yet received – or have been denied – assistance from government-backed rebuild or (required) elevation programs.

Through June 2016, the NYAC Sandy Recovery Ministry provided assistance to more than 1,550 Sandy-affected families including more than 100,000 volunteer hours. Though having downsized this past July, the ministry continues to provide assistance to Sandy-survivors through its collaboration with CT Rises, the Connecticut Long-term Recovery Group, and the St. Bernard Project (formerly Friends of Rockaway) in New York. At this point, the majority of requests coming through the unmet needs tables are for temporary relocation rental assistance, mortgage assistance, and licensed contractor services.

For most, it will still be many months before they will be able to return to their homes.

Hermine and Matthew

Meanwhile, homeowners, business owners, and many others in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida are only beginning their recovery process. As of November 2, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had received almost 161,000 applications for assistance, with more than 150,000 of those the direct result of Matthew. These numbers reflect only those who have registered with FEMA. This number will only increase as time goes on. Out of the news are areas of West Virginia and Louisiana, severely affected by rain and storms earlier this year. As with Sandy, these recovery efforts will extend for years.

Despite the resources available through federal, state and local agencies, the voluntary and faith-based sectors are, and remain, a critical part of any recovery effort. A FEMA senior voluntary agency liaison has put out this plea, “As Matthew and Hermine fade from the national news please know that the disasters in each of the states are in need of volunteers and financial donations for recovery which is just beginning.”

A Call to Action

Friends, as so many came to assist us following Sandy, the call goes out for us to respond in a like manner. At a recent Metropolitan District Council on Ministries meeting, I challenged the district to develop and send a response team to one of the recovery areas next spring. I put that challenge out to each of our districts, to each of our congregations, to all of our early response teams, to former team leaders and members as well. If need be, we have experienced persons who will work with you and walk you through the process.

What a testimony it would be if we could send out a team a month throughout the spring, summer, and fall of 2017.

If you are willing to serve as a team leader for an early response team (ERT) or long-term recovery team please contact Tom Vencuss at

And remember - that for so many, long term recovery is just that . . . long!

May God inspire us, lead us, and bless us in this work.

Tom Vencuss

Coordinator of Disaster Recovery Ministries

Update on Haiti

Recent reports are that more than 1,000 people have died and 800,000 people are at risk in Haiti as a result of Hurricane Matthew. The areas most affected were on the western part of the island, many of which were already fragile agriculture and economic communities. Matthew devastated farms, crops, livestock, and homes; compromised water sources; and took lives. Cholera and exposure are both concerns.   Further complicating recovery efforts is the fact that there is one major road leading into the recovery area and several bridges were compromised or destroyed. It has been described by international aid agencies as a humanitarian crisis. Yet, it has largely been out of the news.  

UMCOR has been working through its in-country coordinators, and convoys of trucks from the Methodist Church of Haiti in Port au Prince have been going into the recovery area, bringing emergency food and water, tarps, medical assistance, and other supplies. Volunteers with long ties and experience in Jeremie have been flying in with chainsaws, emergency supplies, and other equipment. The situation remains critical.

Rev. Tom Vencuss, our disaster response coordinator, who coordinated the UMCOR/VIM earthquake response program, has been working with leaders of the Methodist Church of Haiti and mission volunteers to develop a structure and plan for the deployment of volunteer teams into the recovery areas. Volunteer teams will not be deployed until January at the earliest.

Tom and Wendy Vencuss, coordinators of Mountains of Hope for Haiti, the NYAC mission in Haiti, will be in country November 15-21 to meet with church leaders, visit the recovery area, and assess the situation for volunteer engagement.

If you are interested in leading a team to Haiti please contact Tom at

Go to these links on the conference web site for additional information and updates:

Training and response information

Bishop Bickerton’s suggests ways to respond

Hurricane Matthew: Report #2 from Eglise Méthodiste d’Haiti