4:00 A.M. EDT July 5, 2011
Youth from the Texas Annual (regional) Conference assembled 110 cleaning buckets for the UMCOR Sager Brown Depot in Baldwin, La. Photo by Eleanor Colvin.
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What happens when two neighboring annual (regional) conferences compete to see who can collect the most hand towels for UMCOR health kits?
Amazing things, according to the United Methodist Committee on Relief’s Midwest Mission Distribution Center in Chatham, Ill.
Before their annual conference sessions began, leaders in the Illinois Great Rivers and Iowa conferences challenged their members to a friendly competition. Illinois Great Rivers won the contest with 12,000 towels; Iowa took second place with 9,138.
Taking a cue from their neighbors, members of the Northern Illinois Conference donated 2,655 pounds of health-kit and cleaning supplies to the distribution center.
As severe floods and tornadoes continue to drench and destroy homes and property across the United States, UMCOR’s network of seven relief-supply centers is scrambling to replenish shelves.
The Rev. Cynthia Harvey, who heads UMCOR, acknowledged 2011 has been a rough year, and it is only half over.
“This storm season hardly compares to previous storm seasons,” she said. “Through the end of April, we had already responded … to as many storms as we had actually had in all of 2010, and almost as many as we had in 2009. So that gives you an idea that we’re just, basically not even halfway through the year, and already our response is greater than it’s been in the last two years.
“And frankly,” Harvey added, “my concern is that hurricane season is just beginning.”
Nearly 170,000 kits shipped in two months
In just two months, centers shipped 169,512 relief supply kits to people in the United States and internationally. They range from the aforementioned health kits to bedding, birthing, layette, school and sewing kits and cleaning buckets, formerly called “flood buckets,” which contain supplies to enable people to begin the overwhelming job of cleaning up after a flood or hurricane.
Fortunately, the dwindling-supply situation was on the radar of many United Methodists as they gathered for annual conference sessions.
In the Alabama-West Florida Conference, where tornadoes left destruction two months ago, United Methodists attending annual sessions collected more than 3,700 relief kits.
As the North Alabama Annual (regional) Conference continued to recover from April tornadoes, United Methodists shared 2,800 health kits with others. Photo by Cristin Farrington.
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“We know at least 85 churches contributed kits, bulk supplies and funds,” said Susan Hunt, director of mission. “However, the actual number must have been much more because several loads came in that represented several churches’ combined contributions.”
United Methodists in the Minnesota Conference tried a similar tack, amassing 5,584 pounds of kit resources and $473 to purchase additional items.
Collecting UMCOR kits is an annual tradition in the Nebraska Conference. This year 3,914 kits of all kinds were collected over three days, as well as $3,718 for kit supplies and $3,432 for shipping, according to Lyle Schoen, conference secretary of global ministries.
A driver from Soucie Trucking in Cambridge, Neb., delivered the kits to the UMCOR West Office and Depot in Salt Lake City. Soucie Trucking graciously donates use of the trailer each year.
Tornado-hit areas respond
United Methodists in the Western Pennsylvania Conference are accustomed to bringing UMCOR relief kit contents to annual conference, and this year they did so with no publicity. The Rev. Nelson Thayer, UMCOR Eastbrook Mission Barn director, said 4,929 kits, worth nearly $83,000, were contributed.
Assembling birthing kits, which include the essential items to promote a safe, clean delivery and to encourage good aftercare, was the mission of the Desert Southwest Conference. According to a recent report, conference attendees brought materials for more than 2,000 kits.
Along with birthing kits, United Methodists in the Yellowstone Conference gathered supplies for school kits, often the only educational resources for children around the world who have no classrooms and meet in inadequate or damaged buildings, in tents or outdoors.
A Mission in Motion truck from the United Methodist Midwest Distribution Center awaits UMCOR kits from Northern Illinois Annual (regional) Conference. Photo courtesy of Anne Marie Gerhardt.
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Health kits, which offer basics to people forced to leave home because of human conflict or natural disaster, were the focus of people in the Kentucky and North Alabama conferences. Kentucky attendees collected 1,000 of the simple-but-useful kits, while North Alabama’s total was 2,800.
“I think the plan is to use them to replenish our supply at our conference disaster warehouse to be ready for any nearby disaster,” said Danette Clifton, North Alabama communication director. “Our post-tornado disaster response efforts here are turning more toward long-term recovery, so the kits will be ready for us to send somewhere in the early-response stages.”
Youth took the initiative in the Texas Conference, spearheading mission activities through project COLLIDE, which dispatched teens to mission sites around Houston. One team was responsible for assembling 110 cleaning buckets on Sunday morning. That evening, worshippers brought 90 buckets. All 200 were headed to the UMCOR Sager Brown Depot in Baldwin, La.
‘Lots of love and lots of hands’ involved
To be a part of the relief-supply ministry, UMCOR invites people of all ages to collect and assemble kits, volunteer or give toward the purchase of materials.
With seven kits from which to choose, there is a giving opportunity for practically everyone. In addition to birthing, health and school kits and cleaning buckets, options include:
- Bedding kits provide an important source of comfort for displaced people.
- Layette kits contain basic supplies for women who have nothing with which to welcome their children into the world.
- Sewing kits foster independence. Women can make clothing in the style of their culture. Cottage industries often evolve from the sewing classes where women use these kits to practice valuable income-generating skills.
The material resources program is always happy to receive kits and buckets fully assembled with all required items. However, the UMCOR Sager Brown Depot can also use large quantities of bulk items such as terry-cloth hand towels, metal nail files or fingernail clippers, and children’s blunt scissors.
Tom Hazelwood, U.S. disaster response coordinator for UMCOR, knows the kits are more than just bags of toiletries or school necessities. They show people care.
He cited the cleaning buckets as an example.
“Those buckets,” he said, “those clean-up buckets that they create, you know, there’s lots of love and lots of hands that (have) gone into that.”
*Dunlap-Berg is internal content editor for United Methodist Communications.
News media contact: Barbara Dunlap-Berg, Nashville, Tenn., 615-742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.