I grew up the son of two pastors in The Salvation Army. While other kids I knew were riding bikes, playing newly released Atari and Commodore 64’s, I was often at the church preparing for midweek events like youth activities and Wednesday night prayer meetings. Setting up chairs, sweeping floors, organizing construction paper and scissors for kids’ activities kept me busy while my parents prepared for service. During the holidays, these roles turned to setting up toy shops and packing food boxes for distribution, working in warehouses sorting donations of new and used, usable versus not usable. I learned a lot about how being organized aids in distribution to those in need in an equitable and efficient manner.
Right now, there are a lot of people who need help. The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has created some of the highest levels of unemployment ever seen in this country. Millions of Americans lost their jobs and are struggling to feed their families. Where do many of them turn when they are in need? To their local houses of worship and faith-based organizations.
Part of my job now is explaining government programs and systems to leaders in the faith community and helping them to build capacity in their communities. A pastor with a food pantry or the manager of a local soup kitchen may not realize that there is funding available to not only support but also to expand those programs. As the director of the DHS Center for Faith and Opportunities Initiatives, I am privileged to work with faith leaders of churches, synagogues, mosques and temples across the country to support and connect them with available government resources.
In April, FEMA’s Public Assistance program announced that for the cost of purchasing and distributing food to people who do not have access to it as a result of COVID-19 was an eligible expense for reimbursement under the COVID-19 emergency declaration. Since then, state, local, tribal and territorial governments have entered into agreements or contracts with faith and community organizations to purchase and distribute food. With these programs, state, local, tribal and territorial governments can work with faith and community-based organizations to address food insecurity. To see then innovation through partnerships has been inspiring. I thought I would share just a few of the thousands that are ongoing.
In Maryland, The Salvation Army in partnership with Meals on Wheels and Department on Aging are partnering to serve many that were quarantined and unable to access traditional food programs.
In Arizona, 48 regional grocery retail distribution centers are packaging and transporting food to six regional food banks.
In California, the Great Plates Program is helping seniors and other adults at high risk from COVID-19 to stay healthy at home by delivering three nutritional meals a day.
Connecticut’s emergency feeding program is providing food through home deliveries and food distribution sites, and procuring, packaging and preparing food for people exposed to or at risk of exposure to COVID-19.
FEMA Public Assistance will reimburse the Kansas Division of Emergency Management for the cost of distributing more than three million pounds of food per month to hungry families and those impacted by the virus. Public Assistance dollars are reimbursing Ohio, Oregon, Michigan, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Texas for food purchased and distributed to food banks.
FEMA is obligated to ensure that the millions of dollars appropriated by Congress reaches the people and communities it is intended to serve. Resources from the federal government offer vital assistance to communities, but we rely on our partners at the community level for their expertise in identifying those in greatest need and getting it the last mile, in the hands of those that need it most.
We know partnership with the faith community is so important. Faith-based organizations are in the community full-time. They know the parishioner who lost his job, the temple member with a serious illness, the family that needs assistance but is embarrassed to ask for it. They serve everyday with little to no recognition, just because their faith calls them to serve others.
Growing up in the faith community, I always knew I wanted to use my talents to serve people. I started my emergency management career while in college and I quickly discovered that emergency management has parallels to those Christmas toy drives, it is all about leveraging limited resources, donations and volunteers to do the most good.
Sometimes government and the faith community use different words, but we have the same goal: helping people. I am honored that I get to serve our government with men and women who embody service to others across DHS and especially within FEMA.
To find out how your community can request assistance, visit the FEMA website.