“Can you imagine waking up and not having a toothbrush or toothpaste or being able to wash your face in a disaster?’” – Cheryl Barb, HUB volunteer
Harvey, Irma, Jose, Maria – names all too familiar from news reports of the devastating flooding and wind damage left in their wake.
And at this writing, hurricane season in the Atlantic still has about two months to go.
Seeing the enormity of the devastation and suffering, it is not surprising that United Methodists want to help. And one of the best ways is creating cleaning buckets and health kits (also known as hygiene kits) to be distributed by the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).
UMCOR cleaning buckets provide supplies to help with the arduous task of mucking out and cleaning up after a flood. Health kits contain personal hygiene items – soap, toothbrush, etc. – for those who have been displaced in a disaster.
Getting essential supplies to those who need them is a process that requires many hands and hearts, and usually begins with the local church. But one critical stop along the way is a HUB.
HUBs serve as collection points for kits and buckets on their way to Mission Central in Mechanicsburg, PA, a
Use the contact information on the list of collection points to inquire about having HUB volunteers conduct a training at your church.
For more information, contact Barbara Burnside, Conference Disaster Response & Mission Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org or
(978) 682-8055, ext. 135.
ministry of the Susquehanna Conference and part of the UMCOR supply network. The HUBs, there are more than 30 around the Northeast, are also points for distributed supplies should they be needed in the immediate area. There are four HUBs in New England: Merrimack and Plymouth, NH (the White Mountain HUB), and Shelburne and Montpelier, VT (the Green Mountain and Central Vermont Mission HUBs).
Cheryl Barb, a member of the St. James UMC in Merrimack, NH, leads efforts at the Merrimack HUB.
Barb, a retired nurse, said HUB ministry is “just something important that needs to be done. She said she has not been able to go on mission trips, but this work makes her feel connected to the work being done onsite. “It’s my way of giving back,” she said.
UMCOR has very specific guidelines for the contents and packaging of its various kits and buckets. As of Jan. 1, 2018, UMCOR will accept only cleaning buckets, health kits, and school kits. Layettes, birthing kits, and sewing kits are being phased out now, and will not be accepted as of the new year.
One of the jobs HUB ministry volunteers take on is verifying that the UMCOR kits/buckets created by local churches conform to those stringent guidelines. That means no Ivory soap, no microfiber towels and only individually packaged toothbrushes.
“We have to open every kit given to us to verify it to make sure that everything in that kit is exactly as the standards for UMCOR state,” Barb said, adding that if something’s not right “we work around it, but people don’t understand: You put the wrong thing in, it costs us money (to replace).”
While the distinction between Brillo pads and the type of scrubbers required for the buckets (ones that do not contain soap) or a one-subject vs. a five-subject notebook may seem unimportant, only approved items, in the specified quantities and packed in the method outlined by UMCOR, can be accepted.
What can’t be used for UMCOR kits may go to the St. James food pantry or to the Maine Economic Ministry.
“Nothing goes to waste,” Barb said, but if people do want their kits to help disaster victims, they do have follow the guidelines.
The Rev. Greg Smith is pastor at the Shelburne UMC, which is the Green Mountain HUB. Rev. Smith said the Vermont HUBs offer a couple of ways that churches can help make kits without worrying about running afoul of the rules.
One is quarterly “Kit Parties.” At these events, volunteers are invited to come to the HUB and help assemble kits. HUB volunteers are on hand to offer their guidance so the kits are automatically verified.
Another avenue for churches is to collect a single health kit item. For example, St. Paul’s in St. Albans collects Band Aids; another church collects nail clippers.
When the Green Mountain HUB approached a local soap factory about donations, the company agreed to wrap but not label the soap in order to conform with kit guidelines.
Getting a donation of 300 bars of soap at a time is a huge help, Rev. Smith said, though it created a storage problem: While soap smells nice, there can be too much of a good thing - especially when it’s being stored in the choir room, Rev. Smith said. They have since moved the soap.
When the Bow Mills Church in New Hampshire invited the community in to pack health kits on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, they invited Barb and others from the Merrimack HUB to offer instruction and, as at the kit parties, the 1,000 kits created were verified. Barb said a similar community event at St. James also created 1,000 kits.
“We started at 9 a.m. and we were done by 10; that’s how many people we had,” she said, adding that their pastor was excited to see the community so engaged.
Both Barb and Rev. Smith said they are happy to visit local churches to teach volunteers how to properly pack kits and buckets to help save time and money in the verification process.
So how do the kits get from the HUBs in New England to Mission Central? With the help of the Rev. John Blackadar, a retired elder, who also serves as Annual Conference Secretary.
He’s been picking up and dropping off materials for the past 12 years or so.
“I now go to Mission Central about twice a year – that’s what it’s been working out,” he said. “I’ll go when there’s a load.”
Rev. Blackadar said that 400 cleaning buckets fill the trailer. As for health kits, after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, he took two trailer loads of them –225,000 kits – to Mission Central.
“There’s nothing I would like better than to have to go down to Mission Central once a month,” he said.
On Sept. 18, he set out at 5 a.m. from his home in Concord, NH, to make pickups at the Vermont HUBs to get ready for a trip to Mission Central. It’s a lot of miles and a lot of hours, but Rev. Blackadar says he loves it and does it for three reasons.
“One, I have a truck; two, I have a passion for mission, and three, there’s nothing I like better than to be driving on the open road,” he said.
Rev. Blackadar also brings his trailer to Annual Conference each year to collect buckets and kits as well as items for the Maine Economic Ministry. For the last two years, health kits have been assembled at Annual Conference. Volunteers, under the supervision of HUB ministry leaders, have put together 2,000 kits.
While the recent storms may raise awareness and spur many to create kits, it’s important to note that kits are always needed, Rev. Blackadar said.
“The kits people are now making in response to hurricane Harvey, Jose, Irma are really just replacement kits,” he said. “Kits have already gone out. But if we don’t make kits to replace them, kits won’t be there for the next event.”
When some members of St. James wondered if their time would be better spent on a more local mission, Barb said the volunteer who led this ministry before her had an answer: “She said, ‘No, we are doing this. It’s important. We are doing it. Can you imagine waking up and not having a toothbrush or toothpaste or being able to wash your face in a disaster? We are doing this.’”