ATLANTA - Major disasters like Hurricane Michael often get boiled down to numbers – how many dollars spent rebuilding communities; how many survivors receiving assistance; how many pounds of food delivered to distribution centers.
Numbers, however, can’t tell the whole story of how a community recovers from disaster, because they can’t count some of the most important aspects of recovery – the kindness, commitment, and generosity of volunteers. There’s no way to quantify care and goodwill.
Yet these are the qualities a community needs to truly recover from a disaster. Search teams and blood drives may make headlines, but when the danger is past and the situation is no longer front page news, people need people. And that’s what the Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (or VOADs) offer – compassionate, hard-working people who know how to help.
Most people are familiar with some of the larger VOADs, like the American Red Cross, United Way, Habitat for Humanity, or The Salvation Army. But the network of VOADs that responded to Hurricane Michael in South Georgia includes dozens of volunteer and charitable organizations, large and small, from faith-based groups to veterans organizations to animal welfare advocates. And each of them plays a key role in a community’s recovery, both short and long term.
“Disasters start locally and end locally,” said Eric Nankervis, FEMA’s Voluntary Agency Liaison for the State of Georgia. “If the disaster is a large enough event, like Hurricane Michael, then the State and FEMA may provide assistance. But at the end of the day, these agencies need to finish their missions and move on to the next event. So it’s VOADs that see much of the recovery process all the way through – at the local level and with a narrow focus.”
Georgia’s VOADs have assisted with all sorts of problems stemming from the hurricane, from home repairs and debris clean-up to financial assistance and crisis and spiritual counseling.
Nankervis offers a few examples of the work VOADs are doing in South Georgia:
- A number of faith-based groups, including Georgia Baptist Disaster Relief, the South Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church, Samaritan’s Purse, Helping Hands Missions, and others, have performed chainsaw work/tree removal, debris clean up, and tarping of roofs. More than 4,000 requests for assistance have been received and volunteer teams continue to support survivor needs.
- Adventist Community Services and The Salvation Army have set up donations warehouses across the disaster zone, and through their networks are distributing food, water, and supplies.
- HOPE Animal-Assisted Crisis Response has deployed comfort dogs and trained emotional care counselors to provide emotional comfort and support to survivors across southwest Georgia, including many who needed to stay in shelters in the days immediately following landfall.
These are just a few of the countless voluntary efforts helping to put communities back together in South Georgia. And it’s the generosity of Americans from around the country that allows them to continue.
Nankervis emphasizes that a financial contribution to one of the many voluntary and faith-based organizations operating in the impacted area will speed recovery and make sure the right resources get where they’re needed most. A list of organizations, with links to facilitate making donations, can be found at gavoad.communityos.org.
FEMA’s mission: Helping people before, during, and after disasters