National Lutheran News

Lutheran Disaster Response bridges the gaps

Pan-Lutheran agency is quick to respond to extraordinary need

Lutherans have a reputation for being the “long-distance runners” when it comes to disaster response. The commitments made by Lutheran volunteers to bring help and hope following recent disasters have certainly solidified that reputation. Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR) has coordinated over 1.3 million hours of volunteerism in response to the 2005 hurricanes, equaling nearly $21.5 million in in-kind service. Who are these amazing volunteers? They include congregations who have sent teams on a monthly or bi-monthly basis. They include nearly 2,000 Lutheran college students who have sacrificed their spring break to help those in need. Maybe they even include you and members of your congregation.

LDR volunteers make an impact that reaches far beyond a gutted house or a few sheets of new drywall. Many volunteers have shared stories of receiving a “Thank You” from someone that they were not even helping. The simple presence of volunteers, especially those who have traveled from across the country, brings hope to those who are picking up the pieces.

Unfortunately, natural disasters can strike at any time and in any place. Aside from the ongoing work along the Gulf Coast and in Florida, Lutherans responded to 15 different disasters in 2006, including floods, tornadoes, ice storms, and even an earthquake. These disasters impacted hundreds of communities stretching from New England to Hawaii, affecting thousands of households.

Even with the knowledge that we could be affected by a natural or human-caused disaster, many of us fail to properly prepare. We worry that the act of preparing for disaster will make us overcautious about future events or overanxious when we see severe weather approaching. In fact, disaster preparedness has proven to decrease anxiety and empower us with a sense that we are ready for challenges that might come our way.

Through the network of Lutheran Disaster Response affiliates, members of Lutheran congregations can receive disaster preparedness training. Preparing for disaster can include putting together a household disaster kit or talking about safe places to evacuate. Aside from household preparedness, congregations are encouraged to do disaster preparedness planning as well. In times of crisis, many people depend on local congregations for strength and encouragement. This could include securing an alternative location for regular worship gatherings and pastoral care to members. It could also include roles and responsibilities in serving the broader community through spiritual care and social ministry.

The story of Shirley

The impact of Lutheran Disaster Response, through its affiliates and volunteers, can make a world of difference for those reeling from a disaster. Take, for instance, Shirley, the single mother of two boys, Charles and Camarin. With Hurricane Katrina bearing down on the Gulf Coast, Shirley made the decision that she and her family would evacuate, and they relocated to the Wash-ington, D.C., area.

Through the Katrina Aid Today case management program, Shirley became a client of Lutheran Social Services of the National Capital Area, an affiliate of Lutheran Disaster Response. Shirley and her caseworker developed a personal recovery plan. She found work as an emergency dispatcher, and she enrolled in classes at the local community college.

Now Shirley and her sons are making the final arrangements for their move home to Louisiana. Shirley will finally be able to reconnect with her elderly mother, and she plans to continue her studies of forensics on a full-time basis. Through the long-term case management of Lutheran Disaster Response, disaster survivors are empowered along their road to recovery. For Shirley, Charles, and Camarin, it means returning home to family, friends, and a fresh start.

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Nevergall wrote this article on behalf of LDR. For more information on how you can support Lutheran Disaster Response, visit www.ldr.org.