Role of Faith-Based and Community Organizations in Providing Relief and Recovery Services After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Vermilion Faith Community of Care, Abbeville, LA

12/20/2008

Vermilion Faith Community of Care (VFCC) is located in Abbeville, Louisiana, the parish seat and a largely rural area two hours west of New Orleans on Interstate 10. The organization was created in February 2003, after a meeting between a community leader (now VFCCs executive director), two local pastors representing local ministerial alliances, and a representative from Church World Service, to unite local faith-based organizations response to Hurricane Lili, which hit the area in 2002. VFCC formed broad connections with local churches, secular nonprofits, and government officesmost notably the Vermilion Office of Emergency Preparedness (OEP). Its activities focused on coordinating the distribution of goods and volunteers to repair houses and the dissemination of information for a long-term relief effort. After a year and a half, the organization ended regular meetings but maintained personal correspondence and semiannual board meetings.

Key Features of Vermilion Faith Community of Care
  • Disaster mandate, part of the local Office of Emergency Preparedness emergency response plan.
  • Expertise and relationships in place from previous disaster relief efforts.
  • Ability to go dormant between disasters and reconstitute itself when need arises.

The maintenance of communication enabled VFCC to become a critical source of coordination and distribution when Katrina evacuees arrived in Vermilion Parish in 2005. Two or three days after landfall, VFCC organized local nonprofits to provide 400 hot meals a day and distributed donated goods and funds. Working with the Clerk of Court, it helped distribute donated goods throughout the parish and from a distribution center set up in a local church. When Rita forced parish residents and Katrina evacuees to evacuate, VFCC, working with local shelters, distributed $4,350 (in $20 to $50 increments) to Katrina families for travel expenses.

Two or three weeks after Ritas landfall, VFCC again took the lead in distributing donated goods through the distribution center and a newly acquired warehouse used to store building materials and tools. Because of its prior work in Lili, VFCC had gained the confidence of the OEP, which began referring all incoming private donations to VFCC for distribution. Within three months of Katrina, VFCC had received over $100,000 in donations, which were used over the next year to assist local families in recovery efforts and to pay modest overhead costs.

In early October 2005, VFCC set up a Volunteer Reception Center, first in a local recreation center, then in VFCCs own facility, using two Louisiana Department of Labor volunteers provided by the United Way of Acadiana. All volunteers coming into Abbeville were directed to the center, registered, and assigned to areas of need. By mid-December 2005, VFCC had processed more than 220 volunteers and, according to its report, supported 5,200 hours of work on 61 houses. During the first few months after Hurricane Rita, VFCC took the lead in organizing over 20 other organizations into a long-term recovery committee, the director was elected chair, and VFCC largely refocused its relief services on home repairs and distribution of building supplies, appliances, and furniture through the committee. By early 2008, despite the directors efforts to keep VFCC active, the organization ended its relief services and became dormant until needed again.

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