Voluntary Organizations Providing Help To Disaster Survivors

Lia Daniels (in green shirt) and Harley McCarter (in grey shirt), members of the New Jersey AmeriCorps "volunteer" team, pack and assemble health and hygiene kits for distribution to disaster survivors of Hurricane Irene at the Community Food Bank of New Jersey. AmeriCorps is one of many organizations that provide assistance to disaster survivors through the coordinating efforts of FEMA. Photo by Christopher Mardorf / FEMA.

NEPTUNE — Many New Jersey survivors of Hurricane Irene have serious disaster-related needs. Groups known as Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (VOAD) are stepping in to meet these needs and members of these groups expect to be assisting long after the emergency phase has passed.

VOAD groups partner with the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management (NJOEM) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide crucial assistance for disaster survivors. FEMA assists the VOADs by identifying available federal assistance programs and providing coordination and donations management. The partners also identify populations with access and functional needs and help applicants avoid duplication of benefits.

FEMA disaster assistance includes voluntary agency liaisons (VALs) who work with the voluntary groups at the state and local levels. These FEMA liaisons also refer people to the VOAD groups.

“Our priority is to coordinate the efforts of voluntary organizations,” said Nancy Turnbull, the FEMA voluntary agency liaison lead in New Jersey. “We help to identify essential needs and priorities as well as resources in the community that will enable people to get their lives back to normal.”

The voluntary organizations provide a broad range of assistance to Hurricane Irene survivors. The assistance includes such critical areas as flood debris clean up, shelter, food, clothing, counseling, home repairs and reconstruction not covered by FEMA.

“All of these needs are handled on a case-by-case basis,” said Turnbull.

New Jersey storm survivors can find more information about the work of the national and local organizations by visiting www.nvoad.org. Disaster survivors in most counties can also call 211 to request help with debris clean up or to get information on other available services.

The VOAD groups include the Community Food Bank, Salvation Army, certain United Way agencies and faith-based organizations from individual churches, synagogues and mosques. The organizations have been crucial to the disaster response.

Voluntary agencies will continue to help disaster survivors and provide disaster relief services in New Jersey counties, regardless of the federal declaration status.

Hurricane Irene has brought out some of the very best from volunteers representing organizations around New Jersey. Here’s a partial synopsis of those efforts to date.

American Red Cross (ARC) – Conducted a massive response and sheltering effort in New Jersey beginning Aug. 26. Evacuations along the coastline began before Hurricane Irene made landfall. Sheltering needs continued during and after the storm as floodwaters inundated communities throughout the state. There were 66 New Jersey shelters open or on standby to open at the height of the storm. They operated shelters while more than 740 workers and dozens of response vehicles fanned out in affected communities to serve meals and distribute relief supplies. The Red Cross provided more than 19,680 overnight stays, served more than 300,900 meals and snacks, provided more than 5,100 health service consultations and more than 4,675 mental health contacts. They distributed approximately 18,200 clean up kits, 4,500 comfort kits, and more than 45,450 relief items such as hygiene kits, mops, brooms, tarps, work gloves, shovels, rakes and trash bags.

NJ 2-1-1 – Received calls from individuals looking for information on disaster relief resources. NJ 2-1-1 hosts a resource guide that provides information on federal, state and local programs as well as resources available through all other organizations. These resources are updated on a daily basis. During disasters, NJ 2-1-1 takes all calls from households seeking help with cleanup after flooding. NJ 2-1-1 helps coordinate matching these households with groups working in the state. www.nj211.org

Catholic Family & Community Services – Offered immediate assistance with food, clothing and referrals for other resources to survivors from Passaic, Morris, Sussex and surrounding counties. They also offered long-term disaster case management to help in the recovery process. The Paterson office has counseled 203 families needing assistance since Hurricane Irene. www.catholicharities.org

The Salvation Army – Started its response as households were being evacuated the week before Hurricane Irene’s arrival. Since then, assistance has been in the form of 47,527 meals, 79,427 snacks and hydration, and 3,268 clean up kits. The Salvation Army will next be focused on long-term recovery needs. www.salvationarmynewjersey.org

Community FoodBank of New Jersey – Prepared and distributed more than 33,800 meals, snacks and water to shelters and mobile canteens; received and transported water provided by the state to shelters and townships; received more than 15 trailer loads and distributed more than 100 orders of cleaning supplies, food, toiletries and new clothing to organizations serving those in flood areas.

The FoodBank is the current chair of NJVOAD (New Jersey Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters), coordinating efforts with the state Office of Emergency Management (OEM), as well as state and local nonprofit organizations. www.njfoodbank.org

New Jersey Community Emergency Response Teams (CERTs) and Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) -Worked 41,941 hours on Hurricane Irene emergency response efforts supporting evacuation and shelter operations, staffing emergency operations and call centers as well as flood cleanup. Volunteers also successfully searched for a missing 10-year old Camden County boy who was separated from his mother. www.ready.nj.gov

Christian Reformed World Relief Committee – Disaster Response Services (CRWRC-DRS) – Sent assessors to northern New Jersey within days of Hurricane Irene. CRWRC-DRS made connections with local emergency responders, churches and partner organizations and provided local churches with equipment to remove water from basements. www.crwrc.org/drs

Greater New Jersey Conference of the United Methodist Church/UMCOR – Provided and handed out more than 500 clean-up kits, assessed damage in more than 100 homes and assisted 20 homes with mitigation of further damage. They also helped home owners with removal of damaged and flooded materials such as carpet, wall board, insulation, and other debris. www.gnjumc.org/disasterresponse/

Tzu Chi – Volunteers from the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, whose name means compassion and relief, provided mud out service for New Jersey storm survivors. www.tw.tzuchi.org/en.

World Cares Center – Assisted in meeting New Jersey’s surge capacities for caring for disaster victims. WCC handled requests made through NJ 2-1-1 to match the neediest of residents with volunteer organizations that provide free-of-charge relief assistance such as mud outs. www.worldcares.org.

Mormon Helping Hands – Provided hundreds of volunteers each weekend to remove carpet, insulation, clean out basements, and provide mud-out services.

Legal Services of Northwest Jersey – Provides free legal assistance to people affected by disasters in matters involving essential needs. www.lsnj.org/lsnwj

There also have been county organizations involved in disaster relief. These included:

  • Volunteer Center of Bergen County – Coordinated calls for Bergen County Voluntary Agencies Active in Disasters (BCVOAD). www.bergenvolunteers.org
  • Jacksonville Chapel – Sent out work crews of five to 10 people in Passaic and Morris counties to help with general cleanup activities including cutting and removing sheet rock, removing carpet and moving furniture. Supplied volunteers to work with Samaritan’s Purse and partnered with First Reformed Church of Pompton Plains and Red Cross to provide volunteers to help with food preparation and distribution. Provided a limited number of host homes for those displaced as a result of flooding.
  • CUMAC/ECHO, Inc. – Provided food, toiletries, clothing, household items and clean-up supplies in Paterson. www.cumacecho.org
  • Hunterdon Helpline, Inc. – Hunterdon County’s first call for help, offered follow up and advocacy for callers, provided local comprehensive information and referral to callers who had issues and needed relief and assistance after the hurricane. Worked with the Department of Human Services, Health and Emergency Management to insure that people had access to all available assistance. www.helplinehc.org


There have been other national and local organization members volunteering in New Jersey on cleanup. The national organizations have included Christian Aid Ministries, Southern Baptist/ New Mexico Baptist Disaster Recovery, Nechama – Jewish disaster Response, Lutheran Disaster Services, Samaritan’s Purse, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, Mennonite Disaster Relief and ICNA Disaster Relief USA.

Local teams have included volunteers from Notre Dame of Mt. Carmel in the Diocese of Patterson, Jacksonville Chapel in Lincoln Park, United Methodist Church in Wayne, Somerset Baptist Church, First Reformed Church in Morris, Somerset County Department of Labor Youth Corps and Faith Lutheran in Hillsborough.

Even if individuals have registered with the American Red Cross or other voluntary organizations, people who suffered damage or loss because of Hurricane Irene should apply before Oct. 31 for FEMA assistance. Registering with voluntary organizations does not mean that a person has automatically registered with FEMA.

There are three ways to register – go to www.disasterassistance.gov, to m.fema.gov or call FEMA toll-free, 1-800-621-3362 (FEMA). Those with access or functional needs and who use a TTY may call 1-800-462-7585 or use 711 or Video Relay Service to call 1-800-621-3362. Telephone lines are open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. ET; multilingual operators are available.

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