United Church of Christ mobilizing volunteers for long-term hurricane recovery missions

United Church of Christ mobilizing volunteers for long-term hurricane recovery missions

CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - Despite help from FEMA and other agencies, not everyone who lost their homes or belongings will be made whole again. That's where volunteers like Jim Ditzler and the United Church of Christ's Disaster Ministries team make an impact.

"Church to me is being out and helping folks," Ditzler said. His mission work in Mexico and Africa hit home, like never before, in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast.

"It's so sudden," he said. "So many people, and the drama of their loss is impactful."

Ditzler felt similar pain watching on television people being rescued and homes being washed away in Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. In times of darkness, he said people have an opportunity to serve.

After Hurricane Katrina, Ditzler and his wife spent time in New Orleans meeting with residents and helping them restore their lives and property. More than 100 homes were repaired or rebuilt after that storm thanks to UCC volunteers. Similar efforts are ongoing in Florida in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew last year.

He finds comfort in knowing volunteers will be at it again in Texas, Louisiana and Florida- gutting homes, making repairs and rebuilding.

"When everybody else is gone home the church is still there to help," Ditzler said. "Peoples' lives are restored, and it's more than just having your house fixed. It's getting your life back. It's knowing that people cared- that somebody reached out."

The UCC is currently building a volunteer bank.

Mary Schaller-Blaufuss is Team Leader of the Global Sharing of Resources Team with the United Church of Christ. Wednesday, she and others will be traveling to Texas and eventually Florida to meet with leaders to further develop a long-term recovery plan.

"Part of it is accessing the resources that are available," Schaller-Blaufuss said. "Part of it is being a presence in local communities, so that we can help people as they decide how they're going to recover themselves."

Immediately after the storms, UCC churches were connecting victims to resources in their home communities. The churches were and continue to send "cleanup buckets" filled with sponges, bleach and other essentials to people in need.

"We're also wanting to be sure that we have a personal presence- that the church is all about relationships," Schaller-Blaufuss said. "That's some of the ways we try to keep people from hitting rock bottom."

Ditzler said volunteering is enriching.

"When people discover the value of volunteering they often will come back," he said.

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