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Record giving for disaster victims

Tsunami, hurricane, flooding, and earthquake relief.
By Jane Greer And Tom Stites
Spring 2006 2.15.06

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Unitarian Universalist giving for hurricane relief topped $3.5 million in January, bringing total UU disaster relief donations to nearly $6 million for 2005. The donations are helping not only people affected by Gulf Coast hurricanes but also survivors of the South Asian tsunami, flooding in Transylvania, and the earthquake in Pakistan and India.

Hurricanes: The Gulf Coast Relief Fund, a joint effort of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations and the UU Service Committee, far surpasses the previous record for UU donations, according to the Rev. Terry Sweetser, the UUA’s vice president for stewardship and development. So far the fund has made grants to the three New Orleans-area UU churches damaged by Katrina, and the Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge; to the Spindletop Unitarian Church of Beaumont, Texas, damaged by Rita; and to community groups in Louisiana and Mississippi. Church uses of funds include staff salaries, cleanup, and some rehabilitation; the Baton Rouge church is hiring a volunteer coordinator and community minister for advocacy. The Rev. Meg Riley, chair of the grants panel, says grant-making should accelerate as more people return to New Orleans.

Tsunami: More than 200,000 people were killed in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, and Thailand. Another UUSC-UUA joint fund raised more than $2 million—the previous UU donations record. Martha Thompson of the UUSC says that a year after the disaster about half of the money had been spent.

In India, the fund has focused on the needs of women and marginalized groups including Dalits, India’s most oppressed caste. In Sri Lanka, the fund has contributed to land reclamation, a new seed patty processing plant, and assistance for Mus-lim widows. In Indonesia, UUSC-UUA aid has helped with community planning, water and sanitation improvement, and the rehabilitation of housing, fisheries, and businesses.

Floods: Donations for flood-stricken Unitarians in Transylvania, in northwest Romania, have surpassed $325,000. An August flash flood in an area with Unitarian villages killed four, damaged more than 500 buildings, and destroyed crops, livestock, and roads. The fund is a UU Partner Church Council–UUA joint effort.

Cathy Cordes, the council’s executive director, says a distribution center for donated materials was set up, with a voucher system for families to procure necessities. Volunteers completed almost all planned new houses by Christmas, she says; repair of damaged houses awaits spring. As of mid-January, $82,000 of the fund had been spent; the remainder will go for projects the villages identify.

Earthquake: More than 87,000 were killed in Pakistan and India and 3.3 million were left homeless. Because the October 8 quake struck mountainous areas, it was difficult to reach victims. A UUSC-UUA effort raised $240,000. Some has been used to bring food and aid to remote villages and for trauma counseling.

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