By Cindy Haverkamp
With new wildfires burning throughout California, United Methodists are wondering how we can help. It should be reassuring to know that our closest United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) depot, located in Salt Lake City, is well prepared to react to situations like these and is, even now, deploying resources in support of families and communities stricken by the most recent disaster.
Recently, EarthKeepers trainees, led by the Rev. Jenny Phillips, visited the Salt Lake City UMCOR depot and witnessed first-hand how those resources are organized. They also lent a hand in completing school kits for students whose homes and schools have been destroyed by hurricanes, tornados or wildfires.
After a brisk walk and a smooth ride on Salt Lake City’s Trax commuter train, EarthKeeper trainees arrived at the UMCOR Depot West, where we were met by Associate Director, Rev. Brian Diggs. The EarthKeepers toured the 22,000 square foot warehouse witnessing UMCOR hygiene, cleaning and school kits stacked from floor to ceiling. We also learned about the depot’s sewing room, where fabric scrap quilts and woven plastic bag mats are made for the local homeless population. As an added bonus, we got a look inside the Mountain Sky Conference’s disaster response trailer, which is packed to the brim with shovels, gloves, and other hand tools, as is the one we have here in the Pacific Northwest Conference.
Next it was time for a brief orientation to UMCOR’s work from Rev. Diggs, known locally as the tattooed and brawny pro wrestler “Deacon of Doom”, who made it clear that Methodists CAN have fun while doing good. Throughout his joke-laced “sermon” we learned that 100% of the money congregants give to UMCOR Sunday goes to UMCOR’s administrative costs, while the money congregants give to special appeals (like the California wildfires) goes directly to specific projects.
We also learned that in recent years, UMCOR has made some changes to respond to the world’s needs. One significant change is that UMCOR used to make seven different relief kits, but they now only make the most-requested kits: hygiene, school and cleaning kits. Kits are no longer shipped internationally, so that the money saved in shipping costs can be sent to countries within the United Methodist connection, allowing local churches to choose and purchase items to build culturally-appropriate kits.
Before getting to work building those school kits, we also learned that, according to Rev. Diggs, all of the materials used in the kits come from “Ordinary people in ordinary places who wish to do extraordinary things” and since these “ordinary people” can be any age, it has become a popular, inter-generational volunteer opportunity.
Because there are so many groups wishing to volunteer at the depot, he is happy to divide up larger groups and share them with partner organizations in the area including the local Habitat for Humanity, the welfare program of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and the United Methodist Women’s Crossroads Urban Center. Interested groups are invited to consider a visit in 2019, as there are still a few openings for spring and summer. Learn about this opportunity here.
Soon the EarthKeepers were working together at the depot’s long tables, verifying the contents of school kits shipped to the depot from “ordinary people” across the nation. Our job was to ensure that the proper number of items was present and to add anything that was missing from bins of donated supplies centered on each table. Many hands made for light work and we soon had stacks of school kits packed in boxes, ready to be deployed wherever help is requested.
The very best take-away from the day was that while Rev. Diggs admits that it is cheaper for UMCOR to use donated money to purchase supplies at wholesale, what really builds churches and community is when like-minded people stand shoulder to shoulder and create those kits together in their own church fellowship halls and basements.
The EarthKeepers would like to share their inspiring and deeply satisifying UMCOR Depot West experience with you by inviting you to put together school, hygiene or cleaning kits in your own churches. Simply follow this link, organize a group of volunteers from your church, create the kit(s) of your choice and ship them to UMCOR’s Depot West by following the directions at this link. Another option would be to collect a special offering and have your church send a check to UMCOR with “California wildfires” in the memo line (click here for directions and options).
Just this week, a full truck of cleaning buckets (46 pallets), hygiene kits (1 pallet) and school kits (5 pallets) left the UMCOR West Depot and traveled to fire-ravaged Oroville, California, proving that our efforts truly matter. When you donate money or supplies or arrange a kit drive at your church, you not only build up your own church family, you also reach out beyond the church doors to help families experiencing disaster-related loss.
There…now you DO know how you can help!
Cindy Haverkamp serves as Communications Associate for the Pacific Northwest Conference of The United Methodist Church.