The Episcopal Church in Colorado has been addressing physical and spiritual needs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the multiple fires that erupted across the state in 2020. Fire evacuations and damages caused further disruptions, expenses and stress in the lives of folks who were already having a hard time. The East Troublesome Fire, Cameron Peak Fire, Calwood and Left Hand fires displaced approximately 3,000 people and destroyed over 500 homes.
Episcopal Relief & Development has partnered with the diocese to help low-income workers and uninsured renters in Grand Lake and Larimer counties recover from the dual disasters. The Episcopal Church in Colorado is reaching thousands of people by providing food through church case management, food pantries, safe and sanitary housing, home repairs and pastoral support. They are also leveraging relationships with local and national nonprofit organizations to make a far reaching impact, sharing expertise and resources.
The Episcopal Diocese of Northern California has been an Episcopal Relief & Development disaster response partner for the past five years of repeated, catastrophic events including the LNU Complex, Kincade and Carr and Mendocino fires as well as the Camp Fire in Butte County. The November 2019 Camp Fire killed 86 people and destroyed much of the town of Paradise, CA in an event described as the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California’s history. Episcopal Relief & Development has supported the diocese in providing aid through a network of active churches including St. Paul’s, Healdsburg, St. John’s, Roseville and St. Matthew’s in the Sacramento area. This effort has helped hospitality and agricultural workers, unhoused people and other people in need through shower ministries and food distribution as well as helping to restore hundreds of homes through an unmet needs committee.
In the next phase, the diocese will build the capacity of its leaders in hopes to create a more interconnected Californian Episcopal response to future fires caused by an ongoing drought and climate change in addition to other disasters that may span over diocesan lines. The diocese will scale their existing recovery ministries, offering food, clothing and spiritual care through its churches and community partnerships as well as address unmet needs for vulnerable neighbors who are still recovering from fires. Much of the work will be led by a Disaster Coordinator who will collaborate with Episcopal Relief & Development staff on content for an ongoing preparedness training, establish systems to better coordinate between dioceses and deepen community relationships.
In August 2020, Hurricane Laura made landfall in the Gulf Coast, with the eye of the storm positioned directly over Lake Charles, Louisiana. The devastating Category 4 hurricane brought on storm surges, tornadoes and flooding along the Texas-Louisiana border, causing billions of dollars of damage and killing at least ten people. Hurricane Delta made landfall and caused further damages the following October. Several months after the storms, and in the midst of the 2021 winter storm recovery, the Episcopal Diocese of Western Louisiana is continuing to assess unmet needs in under-served communities. The diocese is partnering with Episcopal Relief & Development during a discernment period in which local congregations and organizations are convening to decide the best ways to advance towards a new normal.
As part of this discernment process, the diocese will also continue necessary relief work. Diocesan leaders will leverage existing relationships they have with local ministries and organizations to support the unhoused community, uninsured or under-insured people and other displaced persons. Their efforts will provide short-term housing, food and transportation as well as address any other unmet needs at this time.
Three years after Hurricane Maria, Episcopal Relief & Development continues to partner with the Episcopal Diocese of Puerto Rico’s Programa REDES to support its supply distribution efforts, restore uninsured homes, provide emotional care for caregivers and ongoing help with volunteer management and resiliency building. As part of its resiliency building initiatives, the program has formed micro-savings groups in order to build financial resilience in isolated, under-resourced areas. The program’s systems have been especially useful, and scalable, during the series of earthquakes and aftershocks that occurred in late 2019 and in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In response to the series of earthquakes and aftershocks in 2019, Programa REDES set up five volunteer-led support centers that offer medical, mental wellness and pastoral services. The team consistently displays unity and high spirits in the midst of all the destruction around them. The Rev. Ana Mendez, the director of the program, tells her team constantly, ‘hashtag seguimos,’ which means we keep going. They’ve done an exceptional job of assessing needs and responding with supplies to address them.
Entire communities were submerged after Hurricane Harvey dropped 50 inches of rain on the Greater Houston area in 2017. It wasn’t just areas within the floodplain—you could, and still can, drive two hours from the center of Houston in any direction and see damages. Immigrants, migrant workers and undocumented people are still feeling the effects the disaster’s destruction. The storm left many laborers suddenly unemployed, families were displaced and those without insurance quickly learned that they could not afford to fix their home.
The Episcopal Diocese of Texas has collaborated with Episcopal Relief & Development and the Bishop Quin Foundation to expand existing ministries in order to maximize the outreach. This mighty trio has been able to fund home restoration projects in low-income immigrant communities, address the spike in domestic violence and mental health issues caused by Harvey and to feed families in need.
In 2021, the southern region of the US, more accustomed to hurricanes, tornadoes and heat waves, was unprepared for infrastructure design failures caused by the February deep freeze. They experienced a food and clean water crisis, with boil-water notices lasting for weeks. Communication systems were down and there were feelings of isolation and fear en masse. The diocese was able to quickly move from recovery efforts to winter storm relief, partnering with Episcopal Relief & Development to provide emergency shelter, groceries, gas and serve cooked meals to families in Austin, Waco and the Greater Houston area.
Farmworkers face unique challenges during and after disasters, including lack of transportation to evacuate, loss of work and visas if crops are damaged and possible exposure to hazardous and toxic substances. In addition, many of them are put in jeopardy because of literacy issues and not understanding emergency warning messages. Fortunately, Episcopal Farmworkers Ministry, in partnership with Episcopal Relief & Development, is leading the way to improve disaster preparedness and response capacity of this group. Their efforts help ensure that the workers realize a full and sustained recovery after disasters. The Episcopal Farmworker Ministry has been diligently working in advocacy and supportive roles with migrant and seasonal farmworkers on the North Carolina coast for many years. Episcopal Relief & Development has partnered with them in emergency response during Hurricane Dorian as well as Hurricane Matthew in 2016 to provide water and food to stranded individuals and families in need after many lost work due to crop destruction.
In the past, the ministry regularly convened disaster preparedness workshops for agricultural workers. Now, they still raise awareness, with a twist. The ministry has been offering food to families in need during COVID-19, and as people wait in a line of cars to receive food, staff use a reacher pickup tool to share Spanish-language resources through an opening in car windows.
On the islands of St. Thomas and St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands, Episcopal Relief & Development and the Episcopal Diocese of the Virgin Islands initially provided cash and cash vouchers for food, water and critical supplies for several hundred people in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. On Tortola and Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands, Episcopal Relief & Development targeted support for drinking water, tarps, plywood and nails. Three years after Hurricane Maria, Episcopal Relief & Development continues to meet unmet needs in partnership with local leadership.