LOUISVILLE — For decades, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) has stood ready to respond to domestic and international disasters — even a crisis on the monumental scale of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This week, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) announced it has pulled more than $2 million out of reserves it uses to supplement unsupported or under-supported disaster responses — a fund fortified in part by gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing — to help aid response to the coronavirus pandemic. The funds will be divided between international response and grants to mid councils (synods and presbyteries) and their congregations to support work in response to and impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak.
Information about how to apply for grants has been sent to all mid councils.
“As Christians, believing in the living God means attending to God’s Spirit, alive right now, comforting and challenging us,” said the Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. “This time is a shifting of reality as we know it and for the Presbyterian Mission Agency, through Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and these grants, this is just one way we can contribute to restoration.”
The Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus, director of PDA, said the ability to assist mid councils, congregations, and other ministries at this time is due to the generosity of Presbyterians over time.
“There are a lot of Presbyterians and other people in our communities that have been incredibly generous through the years,” Kraus said. “A lot of people give not just in response to a particular disaster, but they give to our general disaster response fund knowing PDA responds to many disasters, not just those everyone hears about, and they trust our discretion.
“This is the kind of rainy day that requires us to pull from our reserves. Without the church’s historic generosity and One Great Hour of Sharing, we would not be able to put $2.7 million in the field in response to COVID-19.”
The Rev. Jim Kirk, Associate for Disaster Response (U.S.), said coronavirus is a unique problem for PDA to face, particularly in scope.
“Every place in the world is impacted,” Kirk said. “I can’t think of a time, even at 9/11, that had impacts across the globe to this degree — every community, every congregation, every partner has been impacted on many levels by the pandemic.”
Kirk observes that even in disasters that affect large areas, such as major hurricanes, there are other parts of the country and the world that are not impacted but moved to respond financially and with volunteer support.
“How do you do that when everybody is impacted?” Kirk said.
That’s where the PDA general disaster response funds come in.
From the $2.7 million, $1.7 million will be allocated for domestic response and $1 million will go to international response.
Of the $1.7 million, $200,000 is specifically allocated for refugee- and asylum-related needs and $1.5 million is for all other domestic needs.
Kraus said, “We know that $1.5 million, shared across the entire PC(USA), is not a great deal of money. The intent is to show solidarity with our mid councils and to support their efforts on the front line. As more resources become available, we will be able to deepen our response.”
PDA will first consider requests for emergency grants, which can be made through mid councils, for approval by April 10. Then it will begin considering applications for short- and long-term recovery grants, also through mid-councils, which will begin to be distributed in early May. Like any other disaster, recovery from the impacts of COVID-19 will be long-term, and PDA is planning for that.
Emergency grants are available to support congregations, presbytery partners, and trusted community partners. Priorities for the grants include:
- The immediate unmet needs of those at risk due to the impact of COVID-19, such as feeding, housing, and/or access to healthcare
- Congregations and/or communities that have historically been marginalized
- The emergent or unmet needs of refugees, asylum seekers or other vulnerable immigrant populations due to the impact of COVID-19
- Congregations or partners at risk of suspending a vital service to vulnerable members of the community
- Programs and initiatives that support the well-being of faith leaders.
Short- and long-term recovery criteria include:
- Support to mid councils in the most severely impacted states
- Communities unfairly disadvantaged due to discrimination and/or limited or no access to recovery resources
- Support for refugees or asylum seekers who may be negatively impacted due to limited or no access to other recovery resources
- Support for developing new approaches and activities with refugees and asylum seekers due to COVID-19 policies and related constraints
- Support for activities and programs that address the underlying systemic and structural forces contributing to the unjust impact of COVID-19 on certain congregations and/or communities
- Support for activities/programs focused on long-term sustainable solutions and designed to mitigate the adverse impact of a future event.
Kraus says the criteria was established in consultation with ministry partners including fellow One Great Hour of Sharing Ministries the Presbyterian Hunger Program and Committee on the Self-Development of People, as well as the Office for Racial and Intercultural Justice.
“We’re really humbled by the leadership of the mid councils and congregations on the front lines and very honored to be able to be part of serving them,” Kraus said.
Kraus and Kirk said the grants are far from all PDA or its partner Compassion, Peace & Justice ministries are doing. PDA has been working closely with the Mental Health Ministry to develop resources, including upcoming webinars on resilience training, and a comprehensive resource guide for social justice in COVID-19. The advocacy programs of CPJ are providing leadership on legislation for COVID-19 response and efforts to fight the wave of anti-Asian racism that erupted along with the pandemic.
And, of course, in the midst of all of this, PDA continues to respond to natural and human-caused disasters in the United States and globally as well as to refugee concerns.
Kraus and Kirk said responding to COVID-19 will inform how they respond to similar situations in the future, but also note that every situation brings new challenges and is unique.
“Disaster responders always say,” Kraus says, “when you’ve responded to one disaster, you’ve responded to one disaster.”
by Rich Copley, Presbyterian News Service