Yes, the "faith-based FEMA" is crucial to the recovery effort after disasters such as Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma.
After deadly tornadoes struck my home state of Oklahoma in 2013, I wrote a piece for Christianity Today on how various Christian groups aided victims based on what each denomination does best.
That story noted the important role of the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster. National VOAD, as it's known, is an umbrella group for denominational relief agencies and secular charities.
From that story, which is mostly hidden behind a paywall at this point:
National VOAD works to avoid duplication of services by FEMA and faith-based groups—a collaboration that has caused few church-state concerns because no money changes hands, said Robert Tuttle, a George Washington University professor of law and religion.
Fast-forward to this week, and I was pleased to see a national publication highlight the faith-based coordination.
The publication? USA Today.
The reporter? Washington correspondent Paul Singer.
If that name sounds familiar, it's because we interviewed Singer just last week about why he came to the Religion News Association annual meeting in Nashville, Tenn., looking for faith and religion stories.
Singer's piece on faith groups providing the bulk of disaster recovery, in coordination with FEMA, is a good one:
If you donate bottles of water, diapers, clothing or any other materials to hurricane victims in Texas or Florida, your donation will likely pass through the hands of the Seventh Day Adventists before it gets to a storm victim.
That’s because the Adventists, over several decades, have established a unique expertise in disaster “warehousing” collecting, logging, organizing and distributing relief supplies, in cooperation with government disaster response agencies.
Likewise, the United Methodist Committee on Relief is known for its expertise in “case management.” After the initial cleanup — where the Methodists have work crews helping pull mud out of houses — the church sends trained volunteers into the wreckage to help families navigate the maze of FEMA assistance, state aid programs and private insurance to help them rebuild their lives. UMCOR also trains other non-profits to send their own case managers into the disaster zone.
In a disaster, churches don’t just hold bake sales to raise money or collect clothes to send to victims; faith-based organizations are integral partners in state and federal disaster relief efforts. They have specific roles and a sophisticated communication and coordination network to make sure their efforts don’t overlap or get in each others’ way.
One reader asked Singer — kindly — why he left out a certain group.
I liked Singer's response: