PNW secures $250K UMCOR grant to continue Okanogan Wildfire rebuilding

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The Pacific Northwest Conference received a new United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) grant for $250,000 to continue assisting 2020 wildfire survivors in northcentral Washington.

At its fall meeting, UMCOR announced approximately $10 million in grants were distributed to agencies and Conferences providing disaster response, fighting COVID-19 and helping migrant families.

UMCOR has now committed $360,000 in multiple grants to assist with the Okanogan Long Term Recovery Group’s work to assist survivors and rebuild homes in Okanogan and Douglas Counties in Washington state, including the Colville Reservation. The PNW Conference disaster response fund has committed $60,000 for Okanogan fire survivors, according to Dana Bryson, co-disaster response coordinator for the PNW Conference and liaison to the Okanogan Long Term Recovery Group.

“UMCOR’s commitment really got the project rolling and leveraged the ability to get other funders involved and fully fund the project,” Bryson said. “Because UMCOR was willing to go on record with a letter of intent, we were able to show that we were serious and the project was viable. It was a snowball effect from there. It also got volunteers involved, because they knew this was serious.”

Bryson reports that The Okanogan Long Term Recovery Group (LTRG) is leading a phase one rebuild of six homes from October to April. Site preparation was performed by volunteer heavy equipment operators (Restoration Hope). Foundations are being completed. Floors and framing are currently being performed by skilled UMC (Central UMC in Sedro-Woolley and Fairwood UMC in Renton) and Presbyterian (North Creek Presbyterian Church) volunteers. Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) teams are arriving to finish framing and start installing trusses and roofs. Teams are currently finishing framing on the third home. Volunteers are needed to complete dry-in and do finish work. If you or your congregation would like to become involved, please contact Cheryl Reagan PNWUMVIM@gmail.com or John Melvin jajkmelvin@hotmail.com for more information.

The six rebuild sites are located in Okanogan and Douglas Counties, including the Colville Reservation. They are logistically challenging as most are remote and there is a 2.5 hour drive between the site furthest north, just below the Canadian Border, and the site furthest south. Although the outside work environment is a lower risk for COVID-19 transmission, vaccinations and other controls are required and congregant living and eating is not allowed at this time.

The homes to be rebuilt were selected from the original 200 active cases of survivors whose homes were destroyed or damaged in the fires of 2020. Most of these cases had no insurance and 156 of these cases have been closed by helping the survivors with unmet needs necessary for their recovery. These cases are managed by UMCOR-trained Disaster Case Managers.

PNW church members are playing a significant role in this recovery. Barry Hansen (Conconully UMC) is leading this effort as the Construction Manager along with John Melvin (Fairwood UMC) as a Construction Team Leader. Funding and grant management is being performed by Dana Bryson (Kennewick First UMC).  Cheryl Reagan (Cheney UMC) is the PNW UMVIM Coordinator managing UMC volunteers. Okanogan UMC is providing housing for Mennonite bi-national work teams from Canada and the U.S.. This cooperative, faith-based effort with UMC, Presbyterian, and Mennonite Disaster Service teams working together is an example of how churches can do more when working together.

Bryson said the LTRG is considering extending the project into a second phase to build an additional six homes in 2022 if additional funds and volunteers can be found.

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