Episcopal Relief & Development and US partners respond to COVID-19

Episcopal Relief & Development
Posted May 7, 2020

Episcopal Relief & Development is supporting Episcopal Dioceses in the United States in response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). The organization’s US Disaster Program is providing resources, technical support and funding to meet specific needs related to the pandemic in communities around the country.

Since mid-March, the US Disaster team, in partnership with the Presiding Bishop’s office, has been holding weekly calls with bishops and key leaders in Episcopal dioceses to address the novel coronavirus pandemic. Initial steps included faith-based resources to help bishops and diocesan staff determine how to safely conduct services and to maintain community in a pandemic. As the pandemic progressed and states issued stay-at-home orders, the US Disaster team offered weekly webinars on a variety of topics such as mental health, isolation, institutional support and immigration, as well as other resources to help diocesan partners address the widespread impact of the coronavirus. The US Disaster Program continues to provide technical support as partners determine how to best respond to the unique needs in their communities, whether that be mental health care, medical care, financial assistance or other needs.

“Episcopal Relief & Development collaborates with partners to tailor very specific responses to specific needs in each community through our asset-based approach,“ said Katie Mears, Senior Director, US Disaster Program, Episcopal Relief & Development. “By working with dioceses to leverage local gifts and resources, we meet needs that are not being met by other organizations. I am continually impressed by how the Church has risen up and found innovative ways to be present in their communities and to serve their neighbors.”

In North Carolina, Texas and Puerto Rico, the US Disaster Program is working with long-term partners to adapt programming in light of the coronavirus and physical distancing guidelines. Many marginalized communities were already dealing with issues such as lower income or inconsistent employment, mental health concerns, lack of medical insurance and substandard housing. All of these challenges have become even more of a concern in light of the pandemic.

The Episcopal Farmworkers Ministry in North Carolina is working to meet the increased demand for their services particularly related to food, offering culturally-contextualized public health messaging and working with the state government to create standards for businesses that protect the needs of their workers. The Episcopal Diocese of Texas’ Hurricane Harvey Recovery Program is working to reduce the stigma around mental health services and to connect people with mental health resources. While following physical distancing protocols, the diocese is also continuing to provide food to vulnerable communities through the Abundant Harvest Ministry. The Episcopal Diocese of Puerto Rico’s Programa REDES is delivering food, water and supplies to help individuals and families who are recovering from the earthquakes earlier this year and now have been impacted by the effects of COVID-19.

In other areas of the US, Episcopal Relief & Development is partnering with dioceses on new initiatives to address the effects of the pandemic.

Rural communities in the United States often lack access to mental health care. Additionally, the stigma surrounding this care often means individuals don’t ask for help. For example, the rate of suicide in rural Missouri has skyrocketed in recent years and the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to exacerbate the situation. The Episcopal Diocese of Missouri is training 70 volunteers in Randoph and Boone counties in first aid for mental health to help identify individuals at risk in their communities and to connect these individuals with local behavioral health resources.

In Pendelton, Oregon, the Episcopal Diocese of Eastern Oregon is assisting individuals and families who have been affected by both the coronavirus and historic floods that devastated the community in early February, damaging or destroying more than 400 buildings and homes. The diocese had to adjust plans for the flooding response quickly as stay-at-home and social distancing guidelines were issued. The closure of non-essential businesses created other economic concerns. With the support of Episcopal Relief & Development, the diocese is providing assistance with rent, food and other needs to impacted individuals and families.

The COVID-19 pandemic has curtailed many of the services available to migrants in shelters on the US-Mexico border, such as La Casa Shelter, which is supported by the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona. The diocese is working with shelter staff to implement physical distancing and provide virtual support to keep all of the residents safe and healthy as they navigate the US immigration process. The Diocese of Arizona has a long-standing relationship with Cruzando Fronteras and the shelter. With the support of Episcopal Relief & Development, it is leveraging these relationships to adapt the emotional, physical and pastoral assistance provided to migrants in the shelter under the current situation.

Episcopal Relief & Development staff continue to be in contact with partners in 44 countries to offer aid and support in response to the coronavirus in their communities. The organization will continue to provide updates in the coming weeks on their response, both in the United States and around the world. Donations to Episcopal Relief & Development’s COVID-19 Pandemic Response Fund will continue to support the coronavirus program response both in the United States and around the world.