Where there is an acute human need caused by disasters such as fires, floods, hurricanes, tsunamis, political turmoil, or civil disaster the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is one of the relief organizations prepared to provide help to displaced and suffering people within hours.
Volunteers are the heart of this organization. Recently ten members of the White Rock United Methodist Church, New Mexico and four members of three other Methodist churches traveled to Salt Lake City (UMCOR-West) to help in doing quality control on assembled kits, sewing baby items, and packaging pallets of boxes ready for the next need.
At the depot we were guided by a dedicated pastor, Brian Diggs and his helper, Maika Tukuafu. These two manage the 22,000 sq. ft. facility.
To be prepared for disasters, UMCOR has warehouses in various places throughout the US to quickly expedite shipment of relief supplies worldwide.
The main center, in Baldwin, Louisiana, called Sager Brown, is close to sea ports. Other centers are found in various regions of the US for quick response to domestic disaster and for storage facilities.
The western region is served by a center in Salt Lake City, UMCOR-West. At these Centers, various kits are assembled, verified, and stored.
Relief-supply kits help provide care for the most vulnerable people. Materials for health kits, sewing kits, school kits, bedding kits, birthing kits, and cleaning buckets are collected by generous donors across the United States.
These items are then sent to either Sager Brown or UMCOR west, where volunteers of many faiths assemble, verify, and pack the kits so that they can be sent to where they are needed most.
For those of us who went to UMCOR-West, we realized how often we take for granted simple items such as a wash cloth, towel, soap, toothbrush, nail clippers, bandages, and a comb. But in time of disaster, away from home, these small items may make the difference between health and disease.
The small packet with the above items, called a Health Kit, is a blessing.
People living in areas where flood has occurred welcome the flood buckets prepared by UMCOR. The five gallon bucket contains various items such bleach, gloves, dust masks, brushes and other supplies that enable people to begin the overwhelming job of cleaning up after a flood or hurricane.
I was most touched by the birthing kits. It is hard to imagine having a baby without the clean environments we so enjoy. However, in disaster or in some places in the world, a clean place to birth is not available.
The birthing kits have a piece of plastic for the mother to lie on, a small bar of soap, a pair of latex gloves, 3- to 12-inch long piece of cotton string to tie off the umbilical cord, a single edge razor blade to cut the cord, receiving blanket and a plastic bag. These simple items can help prevent infection in the mother and baby.
Those who have been displaced need to return to normalcy as soon as possible. Providing supplies so children can go back to school helps return order where there has been chaos. Paper, pencils, erasers, crayons, and other common school supplies are packed into kits.
While at UMCOR-West, our team gained a better appreciation for the effort it takes to prepare for disaster and assure that materials get to those in need within 48 hours.
The task is not simply assembling but also verifying materials. If the kits are not as specified, a whole shipment can be delayed by Customs and supplies cannot reach the needy. UMCOR is a faith-based, non-proselytizing organization.
Kits do not have any religious or patriotic material. Subtle things like American flags displayed on a toothbrush are not allowed. Each kit must be checked for compliance.
During the five days at UMCOR-West, eleven members of the team verified more than 756 boxes with over 20,000 health kits. Three members sewed 36 baby items that go into layette kits.
The work was tedious, exacting but rewarding. We know that when disaster strikes UMCOR will be ready to respond, the kits meet necessary Customs standards, and we have been part of the effort. Perhaps one of the kits or one of the baby items will help someone in their greatest hour of need.
This little advertised, faith based organization has served people in almost 100 countries around the world since its inception after World War II.
The organization is designed such that 100 percent of all donations are channeled for relief efforts, none goes to administration. For information go to www.umcor.org. To contact UMCOR-West, e-mail Reverend Brian Diggs at Westdepot@UMCOR.org.
Baby items items sewn to go into layette kits. Courtesy photo