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Christian charities provide more aid to hurricane victims than FEMA

(Reuters/Nick Oxford)Charlotte Mills reads her Bible in the warehouse at Gallery Furniture where she has been staying after evacuating her flooded home in Houston.

Christian non-profit organizations are coordinating with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide aid to the victims of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, but the faith-based charities are providing the vast majority of the relief aid compared to the government agency.

The National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD), an alliance of non-profit organizations, 75 percent of which are faith-based, is currently helping FEMA channel disaster assistance into areas affected by the hurricanes.

Greg Forrester, CEO of the national VOAD, told USA Today that 80 percent of the recovery efforts are conducted by non-profit organizations, most of which are faith-based. He noted that the money, which amounts to billions of dollars worth of disaster recovery assistance, is "all raised by the individuals who go and serve, raised through corporate connections, raised through church connections."

Christian groups, however, are not the only faith-based organizations involved in the relief operations. Forrester said that Islamic, Buddhist and Jewish relief agencies are also at work in disaster zones.

"FEMA can not do what it does so well without the cooperation of faith-based non-profit organizations and churches," said the Rev. Jamie Johnson, director of the Department of Homeland Security's Center for Faith-Based & Neighborhood Partnerships.

"It's a beautiful relationship between government and the private sector and it is something to behold," he added.

Apart from NVOAD, several individual Christian organizations are also aiding in the relief operations in major ways.

Samaritan's Purse, an evangelical aid group run by Rev. Franklin Graham, has recently launched a relief mission to the Caribbean to help hurricane victims on various islands and is also preparing to conduct clean up operations in Florida in the aftermath of Irma.

Seventh Day Adventists are also helping state governments by providing warehouse services in the aftermath of a disaster.

"Right now, in the state of Texas, we are going around with FEMA trying to help them select a facility," said Derek Lee, director of disaster response for Adventist Community Services.

"It'll actually be the state's facility but it'll be us that helps them manage it. We are going around with them right now trying to help them pick out a facility that will accommodate what the need is going to be on the ground," he added.

Manpower is one of the most critical resources that faith-based groups can provide in disaster recovery programs.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) has 20,000 trained volunteers around the country who can be called up for "early response teams," who can help with debris removal and cleanup.

The teams also help families with the process of applying for and receiving aid from various government relief programs.

Cathy Earl, UMCOR's director of disaster programs, noted that the volunteers can also help the hurricane victims in other ways, apart from clearing debris.

"They have a person who is a designated listener so that person can sit down and be an ear for somebody if the homeowner needs that," she said.

Volunteer groups come at no cost to the government, but their services have translated into billions of dollars worth of aid for the states, in general.

States are required in most cases to pay a "match" for federal disaster aid, which is generally about 10 percent of the amount the federal government, is paying in the immediate aftermath. However, the states are allowed to count the volunteer hours as a payment toward that match at $25 per hour.

Luther Harrison, vice president of North American Ministries for Samaritan's Purse, said that his group has already logged and reported to Texas more than 27,000 volunteer hours, which is worth over $675,000 toward the state's required match.

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