By Barbara Dunlap-Berg

What happens when two neighboring annual (regional) conferences compete to see who can collect the most hand towels for UMCOR health kits?

Amazing things, according to the United Methodist Committee on Relief’s Midwest Mission Distribution Center in Chatham, Ill.

Before their annual conference sessions began, leaders in the Illinois Great Rivers and Iowa conferences challenged their members to a friendly competition. Illinois Great Rivers won the contest with 12,000 towels; Iowa took second place with 9,138.

Taking a cue from their neighbors, members of the Northern Illinois Conference donated 2,655 pounds of health-kit and cleaning supplies to the distribution center.

As severe floods and tornadoes continue to drench and destroy homes and property across the United States, UMCOR’s network of seven relief-supply centers is scrambling to replenish shelves.

The Rev. Cynthia Harvey, who heads UMCOR, acknowledged 2011 has been a rough year, and it is only half over. “This storm season hardly compares to previous storm seasons,” she said. “Through the end of April, we had already responded … to as many storms as we had actually had in all of 2010, and almost as many as we had in 2009. So that gives you an idea that we’re just, basically not even halfway through the year, and already our response is greater than it’s been in the last two years.

“And frankly,” Harvey added, “my concern is that hurricane season is just beginning.”

Nearly 170,000 kits shipped in two months

In just two months, centers shipped 169,512 relief supply kits to people in the United States and internationally. They range from the aforementioned health kits to bedding, birthing, layette, school and sewing kits and cleaning buckets, formerly called “flood buckets,” which contain supplies to enable people to begin the overwhelming job of cleaning up after a flood or hurricane.

Fortunately, the dwindling-supply situation was on the radar of many United Methodists as they gathered for annual conference sessions.

In the Alabama-West Florida Conference, where tornadoes left destruction two months ago, United Methodists attending annual sessions collected more than 3,700 relief kits.

United Methodists in the Minnesota Conference tried a similar tack, amassing 5,584 pounds of kit resources and $473 to purchase additional items.

Collecting UMCOR kits is an annual tradition in the Nebraska Conference. This year 3,914 kits of all kinds were collected over three days, as well as $3,718 for kit supplies and $3,432 for shipping, according to Lyle Schoen, conference secretary of global ministries.

Youth took the initiative in the Texas Conference, spearheading mission activities through project COLLIDE, which dispatched teens to mission sites around Houston. One team was responsible for assembling 110 cleaning buckets on Sunday morning. That evening, worshippers brought 90 buckets. All 200 were headed to the UMCOR Sager Brown Depot in Baldwin, La.

To be a part of the relief-supply ministry, UMCOR invites people of all ages to collect and assemble kits, volunteer or give toward the purchase of materials.

Tom Hazelwood, U.S. disaster response coordinator for UMCOR, knows the kits are more than just bags of toiletries or school necessities. They show people care. He cited the cleaning buckets as an example.

“Those buckets,” he said, “those clean-up buckets that they create, you know, there’s lots of love and lots of hands that (have) gone into that.”

By Barbara Dunlap-Berg, internal content editor for United Methodist Communications.



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