When disaster strikes, Julia Menzo, Director of Community Outreach, must decide when and how to respond so that resources are utilized fairly, especially for those with the greatest barriers to recovery. She consults her local partners in disaster relief work to answer those questions and more.

Recovery looks different for each individual, family, and community. It is particularly challenging for those without readily available support systems and resources. For them, it’s not just about restoring a home and replacing items, but working with a case manager to develop a holistic recovery plan.

People who are marginalized need help with overcoming difficult circumstances. They may encounter a landlord who refuses to make repairs. Uninsured homeowners may not have funds to replace a broken heater or repair a roof. Taking into account circumstances like these allows Julia and her partners to address inequities that factor into disaster recovery.

To better address these challenges, Lutheran Congregational Services (LCS) and the Pennsylvania Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (PA VOAD) embarked on a project called “Community Impact Strategy for Disaster Recovery”. The project is funded through a grant from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA).

In early 2022, LCS and Strategy Arts, a firm that enables organizations to realize results through capacity building planning services, proposed the project to PA VOAD. The goal – to strengthen existing partnerships and develop new ones in order to increase access to longterm recovery resources and support for marginalized communities.

Strategy Arts interviewed key individuals with both existing and potential new community partners. They gathered information about each one’s leverage and resources within their communities.

In March, they presented the data to existing partners. Those attending also began developing strategies and suggestions for implementation.

So far the process uncovered several key gaps, with capacity and availability of shelters as well as affordable housing topping the list. Current partners also cited communication and collaboration among community groups as well as the lack of knowledge around the disaster relief process as issues.

Moving forward, the group identified two focus areas. The first is developing multiple and diverse points of access for disaster survivors. The second is working with existing faith-based consortiums to enhance engagement between local governments, community organizations serving marginalized people, and houses of worship.

LCS already sees promise in how the proposed strategies will impact recovery and lead to better resiliency in the wake of future disasters. While the plan is still a work in progress, the process itself has strengthened and expanded partnerships that will broaden access to disaster relief programs.