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Presbyterian Disaster Assistance approves more than $1.1 million in COVID-19 grants


Staff members say they have seen churches ‘rising to the occasion’ in midst of pandemic

by Rich Copley | Presbyterian News Service

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance COVID-19 grants have helped support services such as food delivery to people in need. (Photo by amriphoto | iStock)

LEXINGTON, Kentucky — In less than a month, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) has granted 208 requests for assistance in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic for a total of $1,119,688 in grants.

Those grants cover domestic, refugee, and international requests in an unprecedented crisis for PDA to address.

“We take this extremely seriously and we’re working very quickly,” said the Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus, director of PDA. “Nine people, working remotely, approved that many grants in a week and half, and the money is already out the door. This is a very quick, urgent response done in an extremely diligent manner.”

The closest analogy PDA staff can make to the current crisis brought on by COVID-19 in terms of the quantity and dollar amount of grant requests in recent history is the Hurricane Season of 2017, which included historic storms such as Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico; Irma, which ripped through the Caribbean and into Florida; and Harvey, which devastated the Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana. In all, the 2017 hurricane season produced 10 hurricanes, six considered major storms, inflicting just under $295 billion in damage.

At the end of 2017, PDA had given $540,000 in response to Harvey, Irma, and Maria. So coronavirus response has already surpassed that, and is on pace to exceed that total several times over.

The coronavirus is also an altogether different crisis, not bound by geography and taking a devastating toll on people directly and indirectly impacted by the disease.

In late March, as the scope of the crisis began to take shape, PDA announced it would be making $2.7 million in grants available to mid councils (synods and presbyteries), congregations and international partners to support work in response to and impacted by COVID-19. The following week, Presbyterian Mission Agency President and Executive Director the Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett announced her office was setting aside $300,000 for Matthew 25 Continuity of Ministry Grants to be administered by PDA. In both instances, PDA made it clear that funds would be granted over time, as COVID-19 is an ongoing crisis and new needs will develop.

As of late last week, 43 international grants had been approved for $289,988, 38 continuity of service grants had been given for a total of $201,000, 114 domestic assistance grants had been awarded for a total of $553,700, and 13 refugee grants had been approved for $75,000.

Thus far, grants have been widespread geographically, but there are some consistencies.

Second Blessings food pantry at First Presbyterian Church of Union, Missouri, has seen an increased demand for food during the coronavirus pandemic. Presbyterian Disaster Assistance COVID-19 grants have helped support programs such as this. (Contributed photo)

Most of the requests have been to address the impacts of COVID-19, such as loss of income from people losing work due to precautions being taken and the strain that is put on services such as programs designed to address basic needs like food and housing. Requests have also mostly fallen into the category of being for the benefit of communities that are vulnerable and have been historically marginalized, as COVID-19 demonstrates again that crises usually fall hardest on communities that can least afford it

“In developing the criteria for domestic grants, PDA recognized that churches have a unique opportunity to reach people who are from historically marginalized communities as well as refugee and asylum-seeker related ministries,” said Susan Krehbiel, PDA Associate for Refugees and Asylum.  “And so it is encouraging to see so many of the grant requests are for services that are very much in line with these priorities.”

The Rev. Jim Kirk, PDA Associate for National Disaster Response, says grants have already been awarded in 80 presbyteries, representing every synod in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance COVID-19 grants have been awarded to both domestic and international faith communities and organizations, including those in the Philippines. (Photo courtesy of ACT Alliance)

Dayna Oliver, Associate for International Program Administration, says requests for assistance from outside the United States were coming in before the actual grants were announced, as COVID-19 was already a matter of great concern in other nations when it was just starting to take root in the U.S. The Rev. Edwin González-Castillo, Associate for Latin America and the Caribbean, said that the situation has allowed PDA to get to know new groups in and outside the United States, and the broadness of the pandemic has brought people to the church for help.

“We have heard from our partners about how worried they were about how they were going to respond, understanding that everyone is in the same situation, and the resources are limited,” González-Castillo said. “For them, the possibility of having a partner like PDA reaching out to them and offering to help has allowed them to provide for their communities things like medicines and food, and that has been meaningful.”

The situation has also revealed to several on the PDA staff how much outreach churches are doing to people who are refugees or asylum seekers.

Kraus says she is particularly impressed with how churches have continued to reach out and do the work of Matthew 25, providing food and clothing and shelter to vulnerable communities with nowhere else to turn, while the churches themselves face struggles in maintaining continuity for their own congregations and staffs.

Kraus says, “I just think the churches and the presbyteries have really risen to the occasion and stayed focused on how the church is the body of Jesus Christ in the world.”

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is one of the Compassion, Peace & Justice ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

To support PDA’s response to COVID-19, designate gifts to DR000148.

Give to One Great Hour of Sharing to enable Presbyterian Disaster Assistance to respond quickly to catastrophic events.

Read more:

PDA ready to make COVID-19 grants thanks to One Great Hour of Sharing

Matthew 25 grants will support vulnerable congregations facing COVID-19

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