Faith-based charities, lending a helping hand

Whenever the United States experiences a natural disaster — like the hurricanes that recently struck Florida and Texas — faith-based organizations will be there to help.

Federal, state and local agencies provide the largest share of emergency assistance, but faith-based groups play an indispensable role in disaster relief throughout the U.S. In the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Harvey, numerous Jewish, Christian and Muslim nonprofits are providing essential services and supplies to stricken families, regardless of their faith.

Man in clerical collar pointing to a map (© AP Images)
The Reverend Mark Goring reviews a map of Houston areas damaged by Hurricane Harvey. (© AP Images)

President Trump recently praised U.S. nonprofits for helping Americans in crisis.

“Organizations like the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and faith-based organizations are actively assisting on the ground, and they are doing a fantastic job,” he said. “I want to recognize the millions of citizens across the country who are contributing in every way they can — with their time, their resources and their prayers.”

Nechama — Jewish Response to Disaster, based in Minnesota, is one such organization. Executive director David Kaplan said Nechama (the group’s name is a Hebrew word meaning “comfort”) expects to raise nearly $500,000 for those harmed by Hurricane Harvey and a similar amount to help survivors of Hurricane Irma.

“Our mission is rooted in the Jewish value of tikkun olam, repairing the world through acts of kindness,” said Kaplan. “We focus more on lower-income communities and families who are uninsured or underinsured.”

Nechama partners with other faith-based groups — including International Orthodox Christian Charities, the Islamic Circle of North America, Lutheran Social Services and Catholic Charities USA.

For the first phase of its Harvey recovery efforts, Islamic Relief USA has spent $32,000 on cash cards for needy Texans. Its volunteers in Florida are arranging for mosques in Tampa Bay and Orlando to serve as emergency shelters for those displaced by Irma.

Islamic Relief USA stays around for the long term. It is working with United Methodists in North Carolina to rebuild homes damaged or destroyed by 2016’s Hurricane Matthew, said Minhaj Hassan, the group’s spokeswoman.

People wearing surgical masks passing supplies down a human chain (© Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Members of Jehovah’s Witnesses clean a Houston home damaged by Hurricane Harvey. (© Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

International Orthodox Christian Charities is assessing needs in Florida and will deploy its “Frontliner” volunteers there. Frontliners are specially trained chaplains, counselors, social workers and medical personnel who give emotional and spiritual care to disaster survivors.

Among the other groups involved in hurricane relief are the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago and local branches of the nationwide Catholic Charities USA organization.

Catholic Charities USA has raised $2 million for hurricane recovery in Texas and Florida. The group has provided food, shelter and more to help thousands of families affected by Hurricane Harvey, said Cynthia Colbert, president of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

“Our staff has worked nearly around the clock to help people recover from the disaster,” she said. The organization’s branches in Florida are doing the same thing.

Joel Schatz, of the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago, said his agency’s Hurricane Harvey relief fund has raised more than $311,000 and has expanded the fund to include relief efforts related to Irma.