Left Justified: Disaster relief is not a disaster

By Stanley Campbell

Haven’t there been a lot of disasters lately? In the last three years, the earth has experienced earthquakes, a huge tsunami, the war in Iraq, and the re-igniting of fighting in Lebanon. Of course, the greatest American tragedy was Hurricane Katrina, destroying the levees that protected New Orleans. Federal emergency management caught hell for that one.

Disaster relief was on everyone’s mind, and the American government was slow in responding (and been the cause in the Middle East). But the American people have given to the Red Cross, Salvation Army and Church World Service (the relief and development agency for more than 36 denominations and interfaith groups).

This Monday, Oct. 2, Rockford will host a speaker from Church World Service; “Disastrous Disaster Relief.” Julia Jones will share good stories about aiding those in dire need and update us on aid to the tsunami victims (she has a video) as well as earthquake relief in Pakistan. Julia will also share the latest about post-war resettlement in Lebanon, as well as the disaster that still affects New Orleans. Church World Service is my favorite relief group, not only because they get in early with a lot, but also because the return on dollars donated is so great—lowest administrative costs of all three agencies.

Julia Jones is assistant director of Church World Service’s regional office in Lombard, Ill. Her parents attend First Presbyterian Church in downtown Rockford. She’ll do a program and support the upcoming CROP Hunger Walk on Sunday, Oct. 15. There will be more than 60 CROP walks within the region, and they all support Church World Service as well as other overseas relief agencies. The Rockford CROP Walk also gets some of its funds returned to the local food bank and food pantries. We will have signup materials this Monday, Oct. 2, 7:30 p.m., at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 4848 Turner St., where Julia Jones will speak. All are welcome at this public meeting.

It’s dangerous to “let the government do it” because sometimes it doesn’t get done. Emergencies that are akin to “acts of God” need giant responses, especially where a number of people are destitute. The world relies on non-governmental organizations. NGOs are often more important than government agencies. Yes, the Army can save a greater number of lives, especially when they aren’t in a war. But the NGOs are there, often sooner, with more stuff and long-term development ideas, and all without a political ax to grind. By supporting NGOs like Church World Service, the American people can ensure that aid will get through and not get siphoned off to some political crony or crooked dictator.

For example, Church World Service provides grants in rebuilding efforts around southern Louisiana and Mississippi. Church groups and volunteers from across the United States descended on the area and are being directed by Church World Service as well as the Salvation Army and other organizations.

In Lebanon, Church World Service worked with the Middle East Council of Churches and local religious leaders in protecting and relocating refugees from the bombed-out neighborhoods. For example, 28 families were housed at the Achrafieh School for girls. Most of the families have been able to return to their villages, but some remain until all the fighting ends. Groups of children still play in the schoolyard and sleep on mattresses in the classrooms. CWS also supported the International Orthodox Christian Charities with material aid including blankets, health kits, medicine boxes and 5-gallon jugs of water.

You can still sign up for the Rockford Area CROP Hunger Walk by stopping in to the new fair trade store, JustGoods, 201 Seventh St., Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thanks for helping!

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

From the Sept. 27-Oct.3, 2006, issue

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