Houston Area Volunteer Disaster Relief Organizations Tour LDS Welfare Center And Cannery

http://sbrown@lonestarlegal.orgHeeding their stated goals of “cooperation, coordination, communication, collaboration”   Texas Gulf Coast VOAD (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster) members met recently at the welfare complex of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS/Mormon Church) located in north Houston.  In addition to the meeting VOAD members were able to see firsthand some of the Church’s disaster relief and welfare resources.

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VOAD is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, membership-based organization that builds resiliency in communities nationwide. It serves as the forum where organizations share knowledge and resources throughout the disaster cycle.  According to their website txgulfcoastvoad.org they engage in — preparation, response, recovery and mitigation — to help disaster survivors and their communities.  The Mormon Church is just one of over 35 member organizations in the Harris and Fort Bend County area that partners with them.

Saundra Brown is a founding member of VOAD and serves as current VOAD Chairman, as well as Disaster Manager and member of the Long Term Recovery Committee. Stirling Pack, Director of Disaster Relief for the Mormon Church in the Gulf Coast area hosted the group.

Project Lift Executive Director Reverend Jimmie Irving, who has been affiliated with VOAD since Hurricane Ike in 2008, found the tour fascinating. “I thought it was just marvelous, just excellent to see how much goes into a project to help those in need.  To know that Mormons are behind all this…It’s a blessing,” Irving said.

Carol Flores with Interfaith Ministries of Greater Houston, a founding member of VOAD as well as past Chairman, has seen the list of associates grow. “One of the newest members is HOPE-animal assisted crisis response. Also our LDS partners have just been fabulous.  We really got a whole new appreciation for their organization and ability to respond during the Memorial Day floods,” Flores said.

“In my service with VOAD I see a community that is willing to step out to assist any communities that are in need of assistance.  I have appreciated the connection, getting to know all these organizations that do outstanding work in the community and to see how we can work together and engage each other.  It’s all about collaboration,” said Kathy Renfrow with the Fort Bend County Office of Emergency Management.

Peter Polis, full-time Cannery Manager led a tour of the facility.  This resource is the only peanut butter cannery in the Church’s worldwide welfare network. According to Polis, the Houston cannery is set to produce approximately 1 million jars of peanut butter this year, with over 520,000 jars going to the community through the food bank system.

Also housed at the complex is storage for a wide array of disaster response equipment. “We keep all kinds of supplies including generators, tents, chain saws, plywood, blankets, and tools ready to be mobilized to help whoever is in need,”  Polis said.

In the Home Storage Area, VOAD members received information about pre-canned dry food storage which helps individual families prepare for disaster by purchasing and storing food. More information can be found at providentliving.lds.org.

To that end, VOAD Chairman Saundra Brown urges organizations to become part of the collaborative effort, as did Jewish Family Services during the Memorial Day floods.  “Anybody that ever has any interaction with disaster relief work should consider joining VOAD,” Brown said.  “We all play well together and we always want to have a bigger member data base so that the connections are in place before disaster strikes. Many hands make a light load,” she added.

For more information about VOAD go to txgulfcoastvoad.org or contact Saundra Brown directly at sbrown@lonestarlegal.org.

Photos by Michele Morford

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