Our Disaster Relief Fund is part of a covenant—a covenant between the UUA and congregations, between congregations who give generously and those in need, and with our community partners. Through aiding our congregations, their members and their community partners, we are able to embody our faith and values.
2021 Disaster Relief Fund Activity
In 2021, a total of $182,910 was given to 14 Unitarian Universalist congregations and affiliated organizations. Disaster Relief Fund grants in 2021 included:
- UU Congregation of Fairfax (Oakton, VA) received funding to assist with their Covid-19 food ministry efforts to combat hunger in the wider community.
- Free Church Unitarian (Blaine, WA) received funding to help repair damage following a flood.
- Community UU Church (Plano, TX) received funding to assist with replacement of flooring and walls following a freeze which resulted in burst pipes flooding their building.
- Birmingham Unitarian Church (Bloomfield Hills, MI) received funding to help restore building spaces damaged by flooding.
2020 Disaster Relief Fund Activity
In 2020, a total of $146,807 was given to 23 Unitarian Universalist congregations and affiliated organizations. Disaster Relief Fund grants in 2020 included:
- UU Church of the Philippines received funding to purchase N95 masks for distribution to people in their area affected by ashfall following the eruption of a volcano.
- Greater Nashville UU Congregation (TN), in a joint effort with First UU Church of Nashville, received funding to support Black-led community partner organizations engaged in relief efforts following a tornado.
- UU Society of Coralville (IA) received funding for a community partner organization helping immigrant families, whose jobs were affected because of Covid-19, with rent assistance and groceries.
- Black Lives of UU (BLUU) received funding to assist individuals and community partner organizations experiencing significant hardships due to Covid-19.
- First UU Church of Columbus (OH) received funding to assist a community partner organization working with immigrant detainees affected by Covid-19.
- UU Fellowship of Elkhart (IN) received funding to replace flood damaged flooring and drywall.
- Rogue Valley UU Fellowship (Ashland, OR) received funding to assist both members and wider community families who lost their homes to wildfires.
2019 Disaster Relief Fund Activity
In 2019, a total of $199,700 was given to 7 Unitarian Universalist congregations and affiliated organizations. Disaster Relief Fund grants in 2019 included:
- UU Fellowship of New Bern (NC) received funding to help support a newly formed Disaster Recovery Alliance to enhance recovery efforts in hard-hit low-income areas following Hurricane Florence.
- Anchorage UU Fellowship (AK) received funding to restore broken ceiling tiles following an earthquake.
- UU Church of Arlington (VA) received funding to help with repair work to their RE classrooms, chapel, and storage rooms following flooding due to record rainfall.
2018 Disaster Relief Fund Activity
Through early fall 2018, nearly $50,000 has been given to congregations in communities dealing with the fires.
The congregation in Durango, CO, used the funds to thank and help the firefighters who were leaving their own homes to save other people’s homes.
In addition, organizations like Black Lives of UU and UU Social Justice Florida have gotten grants to assist people who may or may not have direct ties to our faith but are a part of our community.
In Their Own Words: Thanks from Relief Recipients
"Learning to breathe and asking for help has always been hard for me… Recently with Hurricane Irma, my family and I evacuated Florida for the safety and well being of our baby. He turned 1 year old on our way through the Florida panhandle and celebrated his birthday with his mom singing the happy birthday song in the back seat of our pickup truck crammed full of water, clothes, and other last minute evacuation stuff...
It was not only a journey to remember but a financial burden too. You see, having drained our savings account on paying the hospital bills for his birth and day care, this unexpected evacuation really hit us hard. Expenses racked up quickly from getting gas and high prices at the pump when you were lucky enough to find a station with it, to extra food and baby supplies…
We were turned down [for a FEMA grant] and provided a list of all other agencies which we could apply to for help but none of which were related to our need. Then I saw an e-mail from our interim minister at UUCFM. So, I asked for help again...Now, as I grown man who has depended on no one since the age of 15, I don't cry much. However, this day I did.
Receiving this assistance has made a huge difference. I was able to get my finances out of the red and back on track, pay the mortgage on time again, and breathe! Thank you so much for helping my family survive this crisis and helping me personally learn that sometimes growing is asking for help."
“The yards of 30 non-UU disabled and elderly residents were cleared and four homes cleaned between mid October and present. Of the four homes cleaned, three were shelter residents that had been residing in emergency shelter [for weeks] ...The shelters are now being closed and these individuals are in limbo because their homes are not habitable. One 81-year-old blind gentleman did not have indoor plumbing, but instead used an outhouse that was almost as big as his house...The living conditions of some elderly residents we helped were deplorable.”
“We have deep partnerships with the Latino and non-profit community that serves Santa Paula with its large migrant and undocumented population...The Community Partners we helped with the UUA's Disaster Relief Funds augmented by some individual donors are Latino Town Hall, CAUSE, Interface, the Santa Paula Ministerial Association and the Ventura County Community Foundation's Undocufund.
A number of families lost everything, especially in Wheeler Canyon. Latino Town Hall used our grant to them to respond to their housing needs. Similarly CAUSE and Interface, both with offices in Santa Paula, have been working with vulnerable populations in Santa Paula dealing with the fire and the smoke. CAUSE provided masks to farmworkers still working the row crops and orchards during the fire, for instance.”
“The roof on our church fellowship hall is old, and during hurricane Irma, we lost a lot of shingles. In some areas, the shingles and felt were blown of, and the wood is showing, so we have to replace it as soon as possible...Our fellowship hall is used 3 nights a week by the local NA chapter, and they boast of one of the highest recovery rates in northeast Georgia. Church members take part in all community events...This is a huge help to our small congregation.”
Background - UUA Disaster Relief Fund
In late August 2017, Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas gulf coast. The damage was devastating to Houston and the surrounding communities. The Southern Region worked with the national UUA to create a fund that would assist congregations and communities in need.
But as we were getting our processes and procedures in place, Hurricane Irma hit Florida. Within the span of only two weeks, two Category 4 hurricanes struck the continental United States - for the first time in recorded history.
And the devastation wasn’t over yet - in mid-September, Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and the Caribbean - locations that had also been hard hit by Irma just a few weeks earlier.
When crises like this happen, people want to help. Previously, the creation of funding streams to aid congregations and communities impacted by disaster was done by the Districts and Regions, but a new understanding of the increasing frequency and scale of disaster caused by global climate change and an increasing understanding of our interdependence across the country led the Southern Region to work with the four other regional teams, Stewardship and Development, Faithify, and other departments within the UUA to create a new Unitarian Universalist Association Disaster Relief Fund, funded by individuals and congregations.
This new grant-making fund gives us a national, coordinated way to be there in times of need.
In the first year of existence, the Hurricane Harvey fund (split with the UUSC) and the general Disaster Relief Fund raised nearly a million dollars and gave out over half the funds raised to Unitarian Universalist congregations and organizations to provide immediate and intermediate relief to areas impacted by disasters. From hurricanes, to fires, to flooding, the comprehensive Disaster Relief Fund is there in times of need.
The stories of how congregations and organizations have used their grants are inspiring and show the impact of the fund:
Our Puerto Rico congregation meets in a library, and they received funds to repair it so that it could quickly become a community resource to those in need.
One of our US Virgin Island congregations meets in a school, and they received funds to get it operational so that all the children on the island could return to school and some semblance of normality.
Our congregations in Houston have used the funds for building repairs, but also to provide a safety net for their congregants - many of whom had difficulty meeting their insurance deductible.
Star Island received a grant to repair their facility after a series of Nor’easters caused extensive damage.
2017 Disaster Fund Activity
Northern California Fires
Napa Valley Unitarian Universalists, CA - To provide emergency assistance to families who lost their homes and to assist in repairs related to smoke damage for other households.
Hurricane Irma and Maria Response
After the Southeast and the Caribbean experienced two category five hurricanes within a week of each other, the initial Hurricane Irma Recovery Fund was broadened and renamed the UUA Disaster Relief Fund. Initial grants have been awarded to:
Unitarian Universalists of Clearwater , FL—To assist in repairs caused by the downing of a very large tree on church property.
Unitarian Universalist Church of Fort Myers , FL—TFor debris removal and repairs of building and exterior signage, as well as emergency assistance to several families for temporary housing, power generator, and repair of a mobile home.
Canon Unitarian Universalist Church, GA—To assist with roof repairs to their building.
Unitarian Universalists of Puerto Rico, San Juan, PR—TFor emergency supplies and to assist in repairs to the local library where they meet. More aid will be sent as the island regains basic services such as water and power.
UU Fellowship of St. Croix, USVI—TFellowship members are forming working teams with community partners to go door-to-door to conduct "wellness checks" on residents and help them address their immediate needs. This is especially important as the island is under a strict curfew, with just four hours a day available for people to leave their homes.
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of St. John, USVI—To assist in rebuilding the Gifft Hill School where the fellowship meets and so that the school can re-open as soon as possible. All students in St. John will be able to attend while other schools are under repair.
The Disaster Relief Application Review Team will continue to process grant applications and make disbursements as funds are available.
Hurricane Harvey Response
Gifts made to the Hurricane Harvey Recovery Fund were allocated 50/50 between the UUA and the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC). The first UUA Harvey-related grants have been awarded to the following:
Black Lives of UU —For emergency assistance to Black UUs who do not have a congregation.
Emerson UU Church , Houston—To repair damage to their building and assist over 30 families who were dislocated by Hurricane Harvey
Bay Area Unitarian Universalist Church , Houston—To provide transportation and direct assistance to sixteen families who were dislocated by Hurricane Harvey
The UUSC is allocating its portion of Hurricane Harvey funds to grassroots organizations serving the most vulnerable communities—namely, immigrants, the disabled, and people of color in resource-poor communities. Already vulnerable populations are more likely to suffer than others.
RAICES is working directly with undocumented families and plans to hire five attorneys to help with the legal needs these families now face. They are also working with shelters to ensure the protection of undocumented communities.
Living Hope serves people living with injuries and disabilities that require them to use wheelchairs. The majority of its members are immigrants (90%) and low-wage workers who are not entitled to benefits, lack medical insurance, and do not have a stable source of income. In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, the organization had to rescue many of its members and has been distributing much-need medical supplies to a highly vulnerable community.