Frequently Asked Questions – Mission and Work
Presbyterian Disaster Assistance receives numerous calls following a disaster from congregations and individuals expressing concern and a desire to help. The most frequently asked questions are listed below. While the responses are general in nature, they are applicable for most disaster situations. Please give us a call or e-mail us to obtain answers to specific questions.
- What is Our Mission?
- What is Our Statement of Values?
- How Does PDA Work?
- What is a disaster?
- How can we respond financially?
- How do we arrange for a volunteer to help in the response?
- Can our congregation collect clothes, food, or supplies to send to the disaster area?
- Are any Presbyterian mission personnel affected?
- How do we make relief kits for disaster relief efforts?
What is Our Mission?
Presbyterian Disaster Assistance enables congregations and mission partners of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to witness the healing love of Christ through caring for communities adversely affected by crisis and catastrophic events.
What is our Statement of Values?
- All people are created in God's image and God desires wholeness for creation.
- As Christians, we are called through God's word to show compassion by responding to human need and suffering.
- As Presbyterians, we work together with other members of the Body of Christ, empowering local church ministry before, during and after disaster strikes.
- We are called to work with others across cultural and faith boundaries in crisis situations, while witnessing to our own faith.
- We seek to identify and meet the needs of vulnerable and/or marginalized people.
- We are committed to a response that meets the physical, spiritual, and emotional needs of disaster survivors.
- We recognize the limited human, financial and natural resources that we have been given are a sacred trust and commit ourselves to responsible stewardship.
- We seek mutual accountability, clear communication, and timely responses as we share resources with partners in crisis situations.
How do we work?
We work alongside the local church, affirming its role as the primary agent of mission and evangelism, affirming our unity in Christ in times of disaster.
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) currently has a mission presence in 80 countries of the world where we have a potential base of response to emergencies. Often, when a crisis may be localized and of a size that does not require a coordinated international appeal for funds, we respond by directly supporting our Presbyterian partner in the country.
Rapid Response to disaster events is also made possible through our connectional work with Church World Service (CWS) and with ACT (Action by Churches Together). We also work directly with Presbyterian and reformed churches worldwide to support their expanded relief ministries.
Church World Service is a humanitarian agency of the National Council of Churches of Christ. We work together as U.S. churches through the lead of Church World Service. Relief efforts are lead through the work of the Emergency Response office.
ACT is a worldwide network of churches and their related agencies meeting human need through coordinated emergency response. The ACT network is organizationally based in the World Council of Churches and the Lutheran World Federation. Church World Service represents the U.S. churches on the ACT committee.
What is a disaster?
Any occurrence such as a hurricane, tornado, storm, flood, tidal wave, fire explosion, contamination, civil strife, war, or other natural or human-caused event that produces human suffering or creates human needs that survivors cannot alleviate without assistance.
The Three Stages of Natural Disaster
First responders in the emergency stage may be family, neighbors, congregations, local fire and police departments, search and rescue teams, and the American Red Cross. This is usually a very dangerous time. The survivors and the professional rescue people can be endangered by volunteers who are not part of a response organization.
The emergency stage usually lasts one to three days, but in more severe disasters can continue for up to two weeks. In this case, the next two stages ñ relief and recovery ñ are prolonged. Response activities include search and rescue, emergency shelter and feeding, grief counseling and pastoral care, and re-establishing contact with family and friends.
Basic human needs are the focus of the second stage of disaster response in the relief stage, which usually lasts about one month. Medical services, food, and temporary shelter become available through American Red Cross, coordinated with churches, interfaith response groups, and other helping organizations.
Basic clean-up of homes, businesses, and streets begins in this stage. Temporary repairs are made and utilities begin to be restored. Survivors begin filing claims with insurance companies and applying for assistance from American Red Cross and, if presidentially-declared, the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
People and communities try to return to normal during stage three of disaster response. People begin moving out of shelters and into temporary housing and lives and homes begin to be rebuilt. Response activities include permanent repair and rebuilding, emotional and spiritual healing, agency coordination, and reconciling permanent losses.
The problem and challenge for the faith community is that there can be no "return to normal" for most people. People with little or no insurance, renters, and the poor are often left with few resources. The aid given by the larger helping agencies is often not enough. The recovery stage from major disasters typically can take years for individuals, families and communities impacted by those disasters.
How can we respond financially?
Presbyterian Disaster Assistance will always offer a way for congregations and individuals to designate funds to assist with disaster relief efforts. For information on designated account numbers or to give a secure online gift using your MasterCard or Visa, you may call PresbyTel at (800) 872-3283. Gifts by check should be made payable to Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Mission credit can be received by those who send their funds directly.
Individuals should mail gifts to:
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
P.O. Box 643700
Pittsburgh, PA 15264-3700
Our congregation has a group or an individual that would like to volunteer to help in the disaster response. How do we arrange this?
Communities which have been affected by disaster are very adept at helping each other. While most areas which have been affected by a disaster will need help from volunteers, the need for help will usually be after an assessment of need has been made, and a way to house volunteers has been established.
Presbyterian Disaster Assistance staff members will work to help facilitate work group involvement following a disaster. When PDA receives notification of communities that would like to receive help from volunteers, they are posted to our site. Please check under work team opportunities, or contact the PDA Call Center by e-mail or by calling (866) 732-6121 to discuss your group's size, skills, and availability.
Can our congregation collect clothes, food, or supplies to send to the disaster area?
In most disaster situations, when material goods are requested, clothes are at the bottom of the list. There are several reasons for this:
- Limited warehouse space — in disaster situations, especially after a natural disaster such as a hurricane or flood, buildings which can be used for collecting and distributing relief items are usually being used to their capacity.
- Transportation cost and limited transportation space — there are standardized recommendations for the purchase of relief supplies in bulk and the bundling of supplies in units to allow the maximum amount to be loaded onto ships, planes, or trucks. It is difficult to include clothes because of the variance in quantity and weight, and also the difficulty of getting the appropriate clothes to those in need.
- Specific request of partners — partner congregations or organizations know best the needs of the disaster-affected community. In their disaster response plan, they draw up a list of very specific items which can be used immediately. The inclusion of other items requires valuable time in sorting through and determining the appropriateness of the items.
If you have already collected items and cannot find a local mission project which can benefit from them, you might want to consider holding a flea market or other type of sale and sending the proceeds to Presbyterian Disaster Assistance using the designated account number for the crisis.
Please review the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance material aid policy.
Are any Presbyterian mission personnel affected?
Whenever there has been a disaster in an area where Presbyterian mission personnel are stationed, staff from World Mission will be in touch with the mission personnel to determine their status. If any mission personnel have experienced undue suffering, information will be posted immediately. During a disaster, use the Mission Yearbook of Prayer to look up the affected area. This will enable you to pray, by name, for our partners and mission personnel as they minister to others.
Our congregation would like to make Gift of the Heart kits or other kits to be used in the disaster relief efforts.
Gift of the Heart kits or other kits are an excellent "hands on" project for youth groups and other groups that want a tangible way to be involved. Kits helpful in a disaster are the Hygiene Kit, School Kit, Baby Kit (Layette) and Clean Up Kit. For more information on how to do relief kits, please visit the Gift of the Heart Kits page.