The Spectrum of Disaster Response and Recovery


West Virginia United Methodists Have It Covered

By Rev. Jack Lipphardt,
WVUMC Disaster Recovery Director

Unparalleled in the region, the West Virginia Conference of The United Methodist Church runs the full gamut of disaster response and recovery following the UMCOR pattern of “first in, last out,” or said another way, “We’re here for as long as it takes.”

In response to the storms and flood disaster of June 23, 2016, we have been very grateful for numerous faith-based, secular, and governmental partners throughout the region. Some partners engage in early response activities such as mucking out, wielding chain saws, cleaning out, removing debris, and offering spiritual care. Some have teams that can assist with demolition of destroyed homes. Some bring meal wagons to feed hundreds of people at a time. Some have resources for funding emergency response and/or recovery. Others organize volunteer work teams. Still others conduct disaster case management. Some partners have immediate but short term presence.

Unique in reaction to the 2016 disaster is the West Virginia Conference of The United Methodist Church. Other organizations, faith based and secular, offer different elements of disaster response, but The WV UMC covers it all.

Spiritual Care: Rev. Sue Lowther provides training for clergy and qualified others to be prepared to enter the disaster zone and offer a listening ear for people who are stunned and overwhelmed by what the disaster has done. The training is general in spiritual care and is not evangelistic, proselytizing, or specific to United Methodism or any particular faith. People need to tell their stories and to have a comfortable and safe listener.

Early Response Training: Rev. Dan Lowther offers UMCOR certified training for individuals and teams who can enter a disaster zone to work efficiently and safely once first responders allow entry. Participants need to be recertified every three years.

Disaster supplies: The WV Conference’s New Vision Depot is a supply center located in Beaver, WV, managed by Rev. Sue and Rev. Dan Lowther. They receive donated items such as flood buckets, health kits, cleaning tools, paper products, hygiene supplies, drinking water, meals-ready-to-eat, fans, you name it! A donated camper is equipped to serve as an emergency response vehicle that can house an emergency response team, launder work clothing, and serve as a tool and work shop. A flat-bed truck can deliver supplies throughout the region.

Disaster case management: Grace Msisha and Miranda Nabers are our DCMs who seek and receive referrals and vet clients, helping them to establish a recovery plan. They then help survivors move through the plan to recovery, often collaborating with our construction coordinators for building needs and presenting cases to funding partners to help us stretch our donated funds for construction material, appliances, furniture, and other items needed for a home to be safe, secure, and sanitary. Our funding partners are nearly all gone.

Construction coordination: Buck Edwards and Chad Faris are our construction coordinators who work closely with the DCMs to determine what is needed for a survivor’s recovery. The work ranges from minor removal and replacement of damaged material to substantial rehabilitation of a flood-damaged home to complete new construction to replace a home that was destroyed in the flood. They prepare cost estimates for materials and supplies, and they supervise volunteer in mission work teams who provide the labor for recovery activity.

Volunteers in Mission: Rev. David Stilgenbauer is our conference VIM coordinator who recruits and places VIM teams throughout the region. Several of our ecumenical partners have volunteer teams but rely on us to settle them at a host site and to provide meaningful work for them.

Volunteer Team Host Sites: Throughout the region, The UMC has churches that are equipped with kitchens, sleeping space, and showers to host work teams who come. We are very grateful for our host site pastors and lay folk who enable this to happen with warm, genuine WV hospitality!

Funding: the outpouring of generosity after the 2016 storms and flood disaster was amazing. Along with a couple UMCOR grants, the WV UMC crossed the $3 million mark in disaster recovery expenses. Previously, while partner organizations had funding available, we would partner with other organizations such as American Red Cross, United Way units, other denominations and local congregations, secular organizations, and Long Term Recovery Groups through the region to fund projects. Nearly all of our funding collaborators have exhausted their funds. Only two remain. It is a delicate balance as Rev. Jack Lipphardt sits at the unmet needs table knowing that donors do not want us to be stingy and sit on their contributions while at the same time seeking partner pledges to help our donated dollars stretch as far as they can. As an entity, the WV UMC has had the strongest, long lasting disaster recovery fund, and we need help to continue our work; see more below.

Project coordination: Tying the whole package together are Rev. JF Lacaria and Rev. Jack Lipphardt who give attention to accounting and reporting details, coordinate the recovery ministry, and “run interference” with needed collaborating programs of faith-based, secular, and governmental organizations.

“Soup to nuts” is the dining metaphor for a complete, multiple course meal. We are very honored and pleased to be The UMC in mission covering the full range of disaster preparedness, immediate disaster response, and long-term recovery. Lipphardt said, “If I could dream of the ideal disaster recovery team, I could not imagine a better group than the people we have serving our Conference and serving survivors.”

Current need: The Bishop’s Appeal for Disaster Recovery has a goal of $500,000 to be raised across the conference to match a 2 for 1 grant of $1 million from UMCOR. We still receive referrals of disaster survivors across the region, and we are now needing to respond to survivor families who do not meet the federal guidelines for WV RISE but are strong of need.

Please help! Please make a generous gift to the Bishop’s Appeal. Please help your congregation know of the continuing need as well as our conference’s strong presence in recovery “as long as it takes.” Please reproduce this article in your congregation’s newsletter to let folk know what together we are doing. And please let us know of individuals or sources that can make more substantial gifts to help us keep the promise of “first in, first out, as long as it takes.” Thank you.

Click here to read stories about Disaster Recovery and how to participate in the Bishop’s Appeal.