Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) has received a $1.4 million grant from the American Red Cross to coordinate volunteer housing for Hurricane Sandy relief workers.
“In the seven years I’ve been with PDA [five as a volunteer and the past two as staff] we’ve made good contacts with the Red Cross,” said William (Rick) Turner in a June 11 interview. “This grant is partly recognition that we know what we’re doing and do it well.”
The grant ― which started May 31 ― enables PDA to assess potential hosting sites for relief workers, to establish those sites and get them up and running and to train people to manage and operate them.
Turner said that eight Presbyterian sites have already opened in the New York-New Jersey area. They range in size from Olivet Presbyterian Church on Staten Island, which can host 10 volunteers, to First Presbyterian Church of Jamaica, Queens, N.Y., which can house 50 workers.
“We’ve also helped Lutherans, Methodists, some non-denominational churches and even one Episcopal church assess their sites,” Turner added.
Presbyterians, at least, have responded. “The summer is booked up and we have 250 work teams on our waiting list for this summer,” Turner said. “Of course,” he added with a smile, “the sites closer to the beach tend to draw more interest.”
PDA’s expertise in volunteer housing at disaster sites ― and hence the Red Cross’s desire to partner with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s disaster agency ― dates back at least to Hurricane Katrina. “This is all a result of years of hosting volunteers,” Turner said. “We still have a site in New Orleans and more than 20 sites nationwide.”
PDA’s leadership in disaster relief has been widely recognized. The Rev. John Robinson, PDA’s associate for U.S. disaster response, is the current president of Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters (VOAD), the largest organization of its kind in the country. Last year, PDA volunteer Don Hampton was named VOAD’s “volunteer of the year.”
And there are always new challenges to meet. In response to recent devastating tornados in Oklahoma, “We’re already looking at eight potential sites and we expect to open three volunteer hosting sites,” Turner said.
There are already 50 Presbyterian work teams on the waiting list to go there as soon as the hosting sites are ready. “We got the first call at 4:00 a.m. the morning after the tornados,” Turner said.
“Over the years we’ve really trained Presbyterians well to respond.”