Beginnings. Endings. Hope.

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Left: Rev. Sandy Ward her husband Paul Ward, of Manito UMC in Spokane, volunteering at the Spokane Falls Community College Disaster Assistance Center. Right: UMCOR Volunteer Scott Shriner, from Waterville Federated Church, unloads hygiene kits at Spokane Falls Community College.

Rev. Sheila Miranda

A month ago, I received an invitation to attend the last three home dedications of the home rebuild efforts in Okanogan County. As I put the September 1 date on my calendar, I thought, “I wonder if we will make it for a while without UMCOR work in our districts?” Unfortunately, that wish was short-lived as Spokane County suffered two fires, the Gray Fire in Medical Lake and the Oregon Road Fire near Elk, during the third week of August. As we begin the recovery work in Spokane County, it is the end of the long-term work in Okanogan County that gives me hope to persevere in our United Methodist relief work.  

The Spokane County wildfires, which began on August 18, affected approximately 342 homes. Our United Methodist response was nearly immediate as 240 UMCOR Hygiene Kits were transported on August 19 from our storage in Wenatchee area churches and delivered to the American Red Cross survivor shelter at the Spokane Falls Community College. “Cleaner Air Kits” were also delivered to Deer Park UMC for distribution to persons especially vulnerable to smoke. A UMCOR $10,000 Solidarity Grant was awarded to facilitate our PNW early response, which included supplies and resources at the Disaster Assistance Center (DAC) at Spokane Falls Community College and a possible Early Response Team deployment. 

Kathy Bryson, PNW Early Response Coordinator, reports that from August 25-30, 86 people visited the UMCOR table at the Disaster Assistance Center (DAC). Our Spokane County DAC mission served 250 survivors by providing:

  • 134 Hygiene Kits
  • 17 UMCOR Cleaning Kits
  • 63 Soot Sponge Kits
  • 300+ Document Replacement Lists

This work at the DAC was accomplished by 14 volunteers from the ERTs, local UMC pastors, and congregants, serving a total of 108 volunteer hours. More important than the supplies was the presence of our pastors and volunteers, who listened to the stories and concerns of fire survivors. Our area churches continue to make hygiene kits to replenish our storage supply. Instructions can be found at https://umcmission.org/umcor-hygiene-kit/.

The beginning of the disaster relief work in Spokane County reminded me of watching the Carlton Complex fire coming over the foothills of the Columbia River area nine years ago in north-central Washington and the ensuing early response with which I was involved in Pateros, WA. It is certainly nothing I would wish on anyone, nor do I look forward to doing it all over again. Still, I am grateful that we, United Methodists, have established avenues of providing both early response and long-term recovery assistance for people devastated by disasters. 

Okanogan Long Term Recovery Group volunteers, staff, and funders at the recent home dedication in Okanogan.

Attending the three home dedications on September 1, the last of 49 home rebuilds, was a true celebration of commitment and partnership. It brings to a conclusion the work of the Okanogan Long Term Recovery Group (OLTRG), which oversaw the rebuilding of both the 2014/15 fires and subsequent 2020 fires. At the dedication, Carlene Anders, the Executive Director of the OLTRG, reported that 14 funding partners and 220,000 volunteer hours made these homes possible. UMCOR and the PNW Conference contributed over $500,000 to relief and recovery work. 

For me, the greatest joy of attending Home Dedications is that statistics move beyond numbers to real people. Hearing the stories of the rebuilds and seeing the gratitude in the eyes of the homeowners is overwhelming. The joy of being able to live on their beautiful property once again is more than some ever imagined.

The final home dedications were also a time to celebrate the Okanogan Long Term Recovery Group staff. As well as recognizing the work of Executive Director Carlene Anders, the long-time work of Case Manager Jessica Farmer and Project Manager Barry Hansen was applauded. The work of Volunteer Coordinator Aimee Banworth was also acknowledged.

For me, the Okanogan County Home Dedications brought me hope for Spokane County. United Methodists are known for being one of the first groups to a disaster and the last to leave. We believe in doing ministry that matters as we serve our neighbors in need.


Rev. Sheila Miranda serves as Assistant for Connectional Ministries for the Inland and Seven Rivers Missional Districts of the Pacific Northwest Conference of The United Methodist Church.


How to give financially to support disaster response efforts in the PNW and beyond

You can help to support our disaster response efforts by making a donation to our PNW Conference’s Disaster Fund (Advance #352) directly online at https://bit.ly/PNW-DR

You can also give through your local church or by sending a check to: Pacific Northwest Conference Office, C/O Conference Treasurer, P.O. Box 13650, Des Moines, WA 98198, with Conference Advance #352 on the memo line.

To support the disaster response work of UMCOR where it is most needed, give to Advance #999895. To specifically support UMCOR’s international disaster response efforts, you can give to Advance 982450. To specifically support UMCOR’s U.S. disaster response efforts, you can give to Advance 901670. More information on how to give to UMCOR is available on their website.

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