Friends Disaster Service
“Friends Disaster Service is affecting our community and the world: one person, one family, one project at a time.”
The Friends Disaster Services is a network of volunteers from across the USA that provides relief in the aftermath of natural disasters. Taking their lead from Matthew 25:40, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these you did for me,” they describe their mission as being “to exemplify God’s love and bring hope and encouragement to survivors of disasters such as tornados, hurricanes, floods, fires.”
The group is an outreach arm of the Evangelical Friends (or Friends’ Churches) in USA, but volunteers come from all branches of Friends. They provide relief to any survivor, regardless of race, religion or ethnic persuasion, however, preference will generally be given to survivors who are elderly, handicapped, of low income or uninsured. They are not ‘first responders’, though they do help with clean up efforts. Their focus, however, is on rebuilding and they will maintain their commitment to a disaster-struck community for years after the event.
The FDS was founded in 1974, after a tornado destroyed much of the town of Xenia in Ohio. Eight Friends’ Churches from Eastern Region of the USA sent work crews to the area, led by their founder, Dean Johnson, to work with the Mennonite Disaster Service on rebuilding the town.
Following this experience, they began to respond to floods, tornadoes and hurricanes, as well as smaller local projects. Other regions have followed suit and there are now branches of the FDS in regions across America. They have no paid staff members and rely entirely on donations to fund their work.
Their approach is to mobilise large numbers of volunteers who can move quickly to an affected area, providing labour, tools and building expertise – as well as counselling for the victims of disaster. Volunteers can be all ages, and all skill-levels, but they include many skilled tradesmen, often now retired. They pay their own travel expenses to the job sites but are housed and fed while carrying out the work. In addition, the group maintains mobile tool trailers that can be taken straight to disaster sites.
Projects undertaken range from the rebuilding of individual homes destroyed by fire to large-scale responses to natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina. As well as in the US, they have worked in Asia, Africa, South America and the Caribbean.
In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the FDS sent truckloads of non-perishable food to the affected areas. Subsequently, they sent work parties to some of the poorest affected neighbourhoods to help rebuild homes – focusing on small towns often overlooked by the major relief organisations.
When the Haiti earthquake struck in 2010, the FDS worked alongside other faith-based relief organization to provide temporary shelters for families who had been made homeless. The walls, roof and floor of the 8’x12’ structures were constructed in a warehouse in the US and then sent to Haiti in ‘flat-pack’ form. Once there, another crew assembled the shelters and added two built-in bunk beds. More recently, along with another Christian group, Builders Without Borders, they have helped to rebuild an orphanage in Haiti.