Category Archives: Disaster Assistance

Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico continue long road to recovery one year after hurricanes

Rebuilding process is slow, but resilience is strong

by Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — It’s been a year since a trio of hurricanes wreaked havoc on Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, leaving a path of destruction, major power outages and many people without homes. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria in quick succession, pummeled their targets over several days late last summer.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Red Cross and other disaster recovery organizations, including Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA), have made strides in the past 12 months, but much work remains.

Hurricane Harvey’s aftermath as seen in Port Aransas, Texas. (Photo by Rick Jones)

In Texas, work continues to repair homes and businesses damaged by Harvey’s wrath. Last fall, a PDA delegation visited presbyteries and churches impacted by the storm, including the First Presbyterian Church in Dickinson.

Harvey left several feet of water in the church and parked an ice chest and boat at the church door. While the cleanup has been long and difficult, Pastor Kathy Sebring says it’s also been a blessing.

“We’ve had challenges and still do, but it’s actually presented an opportunity of rebirth for us,” said Sebring. “Before Harvey hit, we were a very small congregation and had no new members. Harvey came and washed all of that away.”

For the first two Sundays after Harvey, the congregation worshipped outdoors and, according to Sebring, it drew people in who were looking for help and a church.

Sebring says a church in West Virginia provided money for new chairs and donated a baby grand piano. Another church provided hymnals and Bibles.

“We’ve had six new members since April and one adult baptism. Prior to the hurricane, we hadn’t seen anyone join the church in over five years and there hadn’t been a baptism in 10 years,” she said. “Members were resistant to reaching out, thinking they weren’t big or strong enough. Now it’s not even in their vocabulary. God gives us the wherewithal to do it. This congregation is so on fire. The hurricane was a terrible thing but probably the biggest blessing that God could have given to us.”

Workers unload food and other supplies at Mision Peniel in Immokalee, Florida. (Photo courtesy of Mision Peniel)

Florida continues the recovery, not only from Irma but from previous hurricanes.

“It’s been slow. Around the state, we have several long-term recovery groups that have formed in the wake of Irma,” said Kathy Broyard with Florida Presbyterian Disaster Assistance Network (FLAPDAN.) “Volunteers are coming, but not as many as we would like. The number of workers in Florida is down as many headed to Texas and Puerto Rico after Harvey and Maria. We’re not complaining. Things are moving.”

Broyard says there are many homes still covered in blue tarps and recovery groups are working to keep things dry until volunteers can arrive to help make repairs.

“There are a few churches that are planning mission trips here,” she said. “In Monroe County, in the Keys, they are moving ahead quickly to provide volunteer housing. We’re trying to get the word out that we still need help here. Folks who have been impacted are fearful of the next storm that comes through.”

Damage from Hurricane Maria can still be seen some 60 days later along the western coast of Puerto Rico in the town of Mayaguez. (Photo by Rick Jones)

In Puerto Rico, most power has been restored across the island, but there are still areas where power doesn’t last long. From the sky, blue tarps can be seen dotted across the communities, still waiting for repairs. The government this week released new information on the death toll from Maria, saying nearly 3,000 people died as a result of the storm.

“From what we’ve seen and heard, a lot of people are tired. They feel that they haven’t had a lot of time to rest or to take care of themselves,” said the Rev. Edwin González-Castillo, PDA consultant working on Puerto Rico’s recovery. “I still hear about people needing beds, refrigerators and basic necessities. Power is going out almost weekly in different areas which impacts stoves, microwaves or refrigerators.”

González-Castillo says it puts a lot of pressure on the churches. Many pastors, who are part time and holding down other jobs, find themselves working around the clock to meet the needs of their members.

Families are still living in rough conditions and are concerned about when the next storm will hit.

“I’ve talked with one family that got new beds, but their roof still leaks. When it rains, their beds get damaged, and they must be replaced again,” said González-Castillo. “There’s that moment where you can’t handle it anymore and it’s created a desperate situation for families, the economy, government, and schools.”

To make matters worse, González-Castillo says trailers loaded with spoiled food and supplies have been found that were never delivered. Hundreds of bodies have never been claimed either because families have left the island or can’t afford to bury them.

Despite the slow recovery, González-Castillo says Presbyterian churches are stronger and more organized to meet the needs of their congregations. Volunteer groups continue to come in and assist with home repairs. Next month, PDA will send another delegation to the region to visit with churches and discuss future support efforts.

“PDA has been working in partnership with our Presbyterian sisters and brothers in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico in the initial response and now in the long-term recovery,” says Jim Kirk, associate for disaster response in the U.S. “As a result of the generosity of our denomination, PDA will be able to support the ongoing recovery. It is hoped that through additional gifts that support can last even longer.”


Click here to read PDA’s response to the hurricanes over the last year.

To support hurricane recovery efforts, click here. You’ll be taken to the PC(USA) website to donate securely and quickly.

If you prefer to mail a check (please write “DR000194” on the memo line), you may send it to:
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
P.O. Box 643700
Pittsburgh, PA 15264-3700

You may also call 800-872-3283 Monday Through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Eastern time), and donate by phone.

You may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

Presbyterian churches reach out to communities affected by California wildfires

Thousands of acres burned, homes and businesses destroyed as flames spread

by Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service

Smoke from the Thomas Fire obscures the midday sun in Upper Ojai, California. (Photo by Tim Nafzinger)

LOUISVILLE — It’s been a week since wildfires broke out in southern California and the fires are still raging out of control. There are currently six separate wildfires burning. The Thomas fire, which started in Ventura County, is the worst of the six and is now the fifth-largest wildfire in California history, according to fire officials. Approximately 50,000 additional acres burned on Sunday in the area. Low humidity, accompanied by the Santa Ana winds are making matters worse.

“There are a wide range of problems. There’s still the issue of making sure everyone is safe, especially those in the evacuation zones,” said Katie Wiebe, executive director of the Institute for Congregational Trauma and Growth, in the Presbytery of Santa Barbara. “It has impacted six churches and we have members and staff that are in evacuation zones or affected by smoke and ash.”

Wiebe says some church members have lost homes and there is a high need for counselors to help with insurance issues and assessing needs.

“The urgency has expanded. The area is familiar with fires but nothing to this extent, so it has been overwhelming for people” she said. “First Presbyterian Church of Santa Barbara has been keeping its pre-school open because some of the children’s parents are first responders or are actively involved in supporting relief efforts such as counseling centers or the Red Cross.”

More than 5,500 firefighters from California and surrounding states have been battling the blazes.  Emergency officials report as many as 230,000 acres have burned and more than 800 structures have been destroyed or damaged by the fast-spreading flames.  At last count, authorities say at least 200,000 residents have been forced to evacuate.

Jeff Holland pastors the Ojai Presbyterian Church located in the middle of the Thomas fire area.

“We were in a mandatory evacuation zone until Saturday evening and then were allowed to return. We held services on Sunday,” he said. “For the most part, the congregation has fared well. We have a large youth group and many of their families are not involved in church. Some of them lost their homes so we have started a fund to help.”

Holland says the air quality has been “horrific” and the people have been stressed.

“We had about half of our normal attendance on Sunday. A lot of families are still evacuated or haven’t come back yet because of air quality, but the feel of the services was good,” he said. “People really wanted to come together and see how they could respond as a faith community. The former county fire chief is a member of our congregation and he briefed us on what was going on and everyone was appreciative.”

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance has been in constant contact with the three impacted presbyteries; San Fernando, Pacific and Santa Barbara, providing initial grants for emergency needs.

“We’ve talked about deployment in our initial conference calls and it is still on the table, but not at this time,” said Jim Kirk, PDA’s associate for national disaster response. “Things are still unfolding and our being there would just add one more car to the road and one more hotel room taken out of inventory.”

Kirk says PDA is prepared to deploy a National Response Team if needed to consult with the presbyteries including assessment, emotional and spiritual care support.

Wiebe says church leaders are tired, but still working to reach and meet the needs of their congregations.

“Pastors are holding up as well as can be expected. There’s a lot of comradery and genuine spirit of helpfulness,” she said. “Some pastors are in an evacuation zone and so they’re trying to keep in touch with everyone in the midst of assessing needs.”

Holland says prayers are still needed for everyone involved.

“The fire went from just 50 acres to 10,000 acres in one night,” he said. “My wife works at a hospital and the flames reached the parking lot. She described it as an Armageddon-type scene because the 60 mile-an-hour winds were pushing the flames into town.”


Those interested in making contributions to assist those impacted by the wildfires can click here.

If you prefer to mail a check (please write DR000165 on the memo line), you may send it to:
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
P.O. Box 643700
Pittsburg, PA 15264-3700

You may also call Monday Through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (EDT), at 1-800-872-3283 and donate by phone.

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is able to respond quickly to emergencies because of gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing.

Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

PC(USA) Disaster Response

California churches and presbyteries work to help those affected by wildfires

by Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service

Northern California’s wine country has received the brunt of the massive wildfires that continue to burn out of control. More than 20 people are known to have died in the fires, while at least 285 remain missing. Authorities report 3,500 structures have been destroyed and over 170,000 acres burned.

Presbyterian Church leaders react to mass shooting in Las Vegas

by Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service

While authorities try to determine what led 64-year-old Stephen Paddock to open fire on a crowd of people in Las Vegas Sunday night, Presbyterian Church leaders and pastors are reaching out to congregations and those impacted by the tragedy.

Presbytery leader in Puerto Rico reports on damage from Hurricane Maria

by Gregg Brekke | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Edwin González-Castillo, Stated Clerk of the San Juan Presbytery in Puerto Rico, says the biggest challenge he is facing in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria is communications. Attempting to reach and coordinate relief efforts across the island has been hampered by downed communication lines outside of San Juan, infrastructure damage due to flooding and ongoing concerns about fuel shortages.

Presbyterian ministries issue statement on 2018 refugee admissions

by Gregg Brekke | Presbyterian News Service

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) today, in conjunction with the Office of the Stated Clerk, issued a statement regarding reports the Trump Administration is considering reducing refugee admissions to 50,000 in 2018, the lowest level since passage of the Refugee Act of 1980.

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance to help with earthquake recovery efforts in Mexico

by Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service

As rescue crews continue to dig for survivors in the latest earthquake in Mexico, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is connecting with ecumenical partners to support recovery efforts and assist in developing long-term response plans. Tuesday’s quake, which registered 7.1 on the Richter Scale, was the second to strike the region in less than two weeks, causing buildings and houses to collapse, killing or trapping hundreds.


Presbyterian Disaster Assistance: Hurricane Harvey

hurricane harvey

Give today to help Presbyterian Disaster Assistance bring hope & healing to Texas families impacted by Hurricane Harvey.

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) is in touch with presbyteries affected areas of Texas to offer assistance. We are standing by with resources and National Response Team members ready to deploy upon invitation and when it is safe to do so.

For those who wish to support PDA’s emergency response and recovery efforts, gifts can be designated to DR000169-Harvey. We need your help. Please give generously.

If you prefer to mail a check, you may send it to:

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
PO Box 643700
Pittsburgh, PA, 15264-3700

You may also call us Monday through Friday8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (EST), at 1-800-872-3283 and donate by phone. For updates, please go to

Please join us in praying for courage for those who are suffering; wisdom and diligence among agencies and individuals assessing damage and directing relief efforts; and for generosity to flow as powerfully as rivers and streams, as we respond to the deep human needs left in the wake of the storm.

Rev. Dr. Laurie Ann Kraus
Presbyterian Disaster Assistance

Respond to the famine in South Sudan

From Presbyterian Disaster Assistance

Stand with South Sudan

Nationwide famine and widespread violence with ethnic targeting in the world’s youngest country is resulting in the quiet death of South Sudan, and we are seeing it covered in very few news stories. The devastation is great. We must act now. Six million of our South Sudanese siblings, half of the country’s population, are struggling to find food and clean water, and 4 million have been displaced because of this complex disaster.

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) is funding large-scale emergency relief projects for South Sudanese displaced people and refugees, working through Presbyterian Relief and Development Agency, the humanitarian arm of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS). In addition to emergency relief projects, PDA is working to support livelihood and food security, peacebuilding and education for civil society. The ministries supported by the Peace & Global Witness Offering are providing ongoing advocacy and aid to those working for peace.

“We need your prayers and support in all ways, including advocacy,” said the Rev. Peter Gai Lual, PCOSS moderator. “It gives us strength and hope that we are standing as Christians together until we have peace.”

The needs for the response are great. God’s people are once again called on to stand in the “GAP”—Give. Act. Pray.


Financial support for famine relief efforts may be designated to DR000042. Gifts to support ongoing peacebuilding efforts may be designated to PG999999. Gifts may be made online, by phone at (800) 872-3283, or by check, which may be mailed to:

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
P.O. Box 643700
Pittsburgh, PA 15264-3700


  • Download and use the bulletin insert,
  • Make sure your congregation is planning to receive the Peace & Global Witness Offering this
  • World Communion Sunday (Oct. 1). Learn more, and download resources.
  • Learn how you and your congregation can help and stay informed by liking us on Facebook, as well as downloading resources and sharing updates with your congregation.
  • Write to members of Congress and the secretary of state to share your concern about the crisis in South Sudan. Find resources online from the Office of Public Witness.


That in the heartbreak of all that has been lost by the people of South Sudan, our God of peace will, as Psalm 147 says, “Heal their broken hearts and bind up their wounds.” That the people will experience reconciliation and have courage to participate in peacebuilding, and that the government and those who are seeking to make a difference will be wise in their efforts to put an end to violence, allowing survivors to return to their homes, their fields and cattle, and their livelihoods. Click here for a prayer for South Sudan by the Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus, PDA coordinator.

Disaster Relief Project – 2017

– From Diane Kirkpatrick, Project Coordinator, Mid Kentucky Presbytery

Mid Kentucky Presbytery is again organizing a PDA disaster relief kit project to assist our neighbors in need.  Our goal is to assemble 1,000 + hygiene kits.  We invite the churches in southern Indiana to join us.

Last year’s project was a smashing success with enthusiastic evaluations asking that we do this good work again.  In 2017 we have found new partners – Proctor and Gamble toothbrushes thanks to the KY Dental Association, hygiene supplies from Supplies Over Seas, and the support of the National Council of Negro Women.

We are working on a free or deeply discounted van to transport the completed kits to the PDA storage facility in Arkansas. We have a volunteer to drive the van.  Should the free rental not pan out, Mid Kentucky Presbytery will cover the transportation costs. Last year we were able to delay the van’s departure to receive Indiana and a local church’s donations. This year we have a limited window for van free rental, so we need to keep to the project time frame.

We have set the project schedule to avoid Lent, Easter, and “Thunder over Louisville.” The drop off days for hygiene supplies and completed kits are Sunday, April 23, from 12:15 to 2:00 PM and Monday, April 24, from 10:00 AM to 1:00 PM at Strathmoor Presbyterian Church, corner of Bardstown Road and Hawthorne Avenue (). The church’s phone is 502-451-5185.

The volunteer work day to assemble kits is Saturday, April 29, from 1:00 to 3:00 PM. Completed kits will be packed and loaded into the truck for departure on the trip to Arkansas.

We learned last year:

  • Churches can expand their effectiveness by inviting scout troops and other groups who use their buildings to donate supplies.
  • Some churches prefer to assemble hygiene kits at their own locations so more of their people can participate. This is an excellent option.
  • 500+ bars of scented soap emit a strong fragrance, and the Strathmoor preschool children and members were affected negatively by it. We ask for unscented soap in 2017.
  • Churches with preschools like teaching compassion and making a difference by collecting supplies for the hygiene kits.
  • The PCUSA web page has Presbyterian Disaster Assistance posters and information churches can download for education and inspiration.
  • Presbyterian Women do a fantastic job in promoting and working on this project.
  • Youth groups like to assemble kits and do a good job. Children too with their parents nearby.
  • The April 29 kit assembly day goes more smoothly if we know how many volunteers to expect. If your church is coming, let Strathmoor know.

At this point the most needed items are unscented bath size bars of soap in original wrappers, one gallon zip lock bags, and wash cloths. We appreciate any hygiene supply donations.

Click here to download the info sheet for the 2017 disaster relief project. Feel free to adapt it to your churches’ needs. We invite and encourage you to join us in the mission project.

Thank you.

Presbyterian congregations continue work in communities impacted by water crises

Residents of Flint, Michigan and Hoosick Falls, New York remain cautious about the future

by Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service

Desiree Lawson of Trinity United Presbyterian Church and Gail Farnham of PDA Disaster Response Team embrace in Flint, Mich. (Photo by Mike Fitzer)

LOUISVILLE – The past year has been a challenging one for communities dealing with contaminated water supplies. Flint, Michigan has garnered national attention for nearly three years after improper source treatment caused lead from aging pipes to leach into the water. Between 6,000 and 12,000 residents have experienced a series of health problems including high levels of lead in the blood.

While millions of dollars have been pledged to replace the pipes, residents still hesitate to fully trust government to make good on its promise to clean up the water.

“Things are progressing slowly. For the average resident, it probably doesn’t feel like any progress at all,” said the Rev. Desiree Lawson, pastor of the Trinity United Presbyterian Church in Flint. “They’re still dealing with the water they don’t trust. City officials have urged residents to run tap water in their house faucets for five minutes a day saying the flow of water would help to eliminate anything that shouldn’t be in there.”

The city of Flint kicked off a Fast Start Program this summer and while the funds have been earmarked for repairs, the slow trickle of actual dollars has been frustrating.

“The program involves replacing lead pipes in homes that were most harmful to pregnant women and children,” said Lawson. “So far, 500 homes have had pipes replaced and the city is hoping to have another 800 completed this winter. But the issue of getting money in bits and pieces puts everything on delay. When we get $5 million in increments of the $25 million allocated, it delays the restoration process.”

Lawson says the people of Flint still rely heavily on bottled water for drinking, bathing and cooking and have begun to accept that they have been forgotten.

“It’s amazing how people can adjust to negative circumstances. When you have a list of things that you do everyday and on that ‘to do’ list is to get water, it sadly becomes normal,” she said. “They’ve made the adjustment.”

Lawson adds that Flint residents feel forgotten. “It just so happened that through the election, we were hot news. Every time we turned around, one of the presidential candidates was coming. But that’s died down now.”

Earlier this year, the Fresh Water Flint Committee began working with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) on a short documentary on the water issues. The plans are to show the finished piece at the Second Annual Fresh Water Flint Festival on April 22 during a citywide screening.

“We’ve made our first production trip and conducted a series of interviews,” said David Barnhart, PDA associate for story ministry. “I spoke with a father who was visibly shaken as he described having to repeat things over and over to his 10-year-old son, because his son didn’t understand.”

Experts say lead enters the body and can manifest itself in different ways, from developmental delays to behavioral issues and organ failure. It’s estimated that more than 100,000 men, women and children have lead in their system in the Flint area.

A social worker interviewed for the film said, “I once heard someone refer to the children who had been poisoned as ‘lead people,’ and it made me furious. We find a label for people and dehumanize them so that we can ignore injustice, and then conveniently move on with our lives. We, as a nation, cannot ignore what is happening in Flint.”

Lawson says Flint residents are cautious about getting too enthusiastic about 2017. “The angel said to Joseph, ‘Do not be afraid’ but we are afraid because of the uncertainty of what will happen. But the people are determined to get back on their feet and churches are coming together in a way that’s never happened before and it’s happening across denominational lines.”

“There are a lot of people that are seriously working and fighting for Flint because they believe it can be restored,” said Lawson. “If the money arrives and we get new pipes, hopefully, we can begin to trust again because now, there is a lack of trust.”

Two years ago, authorities discovered a known carcinogen, Perflorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) in Hoosick Falls, New York, a small community of approximately 3,500 people. PFOA was once used in the manufacturing of non stick coating such as Teflon. The source of the contamination was traced to a factory owned by Saint Gobain Performance Plastics, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Earlier this year, PDA deployed a National Response Team to meet with pastors and other church leaders after it was discovered that the contamination had reached municipal wells in addition to several private wells. But local church leaders now say progress is being made to clean up the water.

“Tests from a temporary water filter show that it is removing the PFOA or bringing it down to a safe level,” said the Rev. Donna Elia, pastor of First United Church Presbyterian. “City officials have been delayed in putting the permanent filter in but I understand that will happen in January.”

Even though the levels are down, Elia says blood tests are still being offered to people and bottled water is being given to those who want it.

“Kudos to PDA because we are the only denomination that came and responded. Because of that, other church leaders have had access to pastoral care and participated in long-term problem solving,” said Elia. “Our denomination became a focal point because PDA was there for us.”

Elia says the people of Hoosick Falls are resilient and have “sort of moved on.” It still concerns residents and they are watching out for their health and well-being, but it is not in the forefront of their daily lives now.

“The community wants to be known for its strength. People were glad the attention was placed on the problem but it’s time to move on,” she said. “There’s a movement called ‘Hoosick Rising’ and emphasis is being placed on the strength, resilience and sense of community.”

Elia says the water tests won’t show it, but people who have had blood tests do show elevated signs of PFOA. “Anywhere from 10 times to several hundred times the allowable amount. What we don’t know is whether that’s an indicator of future illness. That’s the great unknown.”

“As a country, we need to recognize that all of our water systems are vulnerable,” said Barnhart. “We need to work together to protect and value the source of life that it is.”


For more information on what PDA is doing in connection with the Flint water crisis, click here.

To read the original article on the Presbyterian Mission site, click here.

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