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Faith-Based Groups Step Up Big-Time for Hurricane Victims

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have brought enormous devastation to Texas and the Florida coast.

More than 50 inches of rain fell on Houston in days from Harvey, causing widespread flooding; anywhere from 30,000 to 40,000 homes were destroyed. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has estimated that almost 450,000 Harvey victims will need disaster assistance. And in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, which had already devastated Cuba and the Caribbean, many people are experiencing a destruction similar to what Texans endured.

More than 5.7 million Floridians are without power, along with 350,000 Georgia residents as the hurricane moved inland. FEMA reported that 192,000 people have sought shelter in other states as mandatory evacuations remain in place and homes have been destroyed in many areas along the Florida coast. With over $75 billion in damage from Harvey alone, Irma could bring the number of total loss to well over $100 billion.

Yet even amid complete devastation — God is clearly at work.

Christian nonprofit organizations have provided nearly 80 percent of the aid so far to hurricane victims — far outdoing FEMA, according to USA Today. Such religious nonprofit groups as Seventh Day Adventists, United Methodist Committee on Relief, Convoy of Hope, and Samaritan's Purse have been working to deliver aid to Harvey victims and are now ready to help those in Florida.

United Methodist Committee on Relief has been working with multiple churches in the Houston area to serve as shelters, and has been distributing cleaning and hygiene kits. The group's website notes that it is "currently working with disaster coordinators and early response teams in Louisiana and Texas to provide relief to the many people whose lives have been impacted by Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey."

Related: The Tragic Loss of Those Who Save Others [1]

It will also be helping with relief efforts in the Caribbean and Cuba, focusing its efforts on the areas damaged most.

Samaritan's Purse is waiting for the go-ahead from FEMA to help clear debris from Irma. In the meantime, it's already begun helping victims in the Caribbean. It's sent a disaster assistance response team (DART) and emergency supplies to the people of St. Martin.

"An additional shipment of emergency supplies for another 2,000 families — as well as a second DART — are now en route to St. Martin," the website notes. "Our first team is preparing for distributions soon. Additional emergency flights will be arriving on other hard-hit Caribbean islands in the days ahead."

That the majority of aid is coming from faith-based groups should come as no surprise. Year after year, the majority of charitable giving in the U.S. comes from those who consider themselves religious, belong to a faith-based community, or attend a weekly religious service. Also, the volunteer organizations that put in the most hours are most frequently religious, accounting for 33 percent of all volunteers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Related: How the Suffering from Harvey and Irma Can Strengthen Faith [2]

Christians are most likely to volunteer and give in times of need because of their faith. Charity is one of the greatest commandments for Christians: to love God above all things and to love others.

Furthermore, Christians typically believe in helping neighbors through community and charitable organizations [3], as opposed to relying on government assistance, though many recognize the importance of that assistance particularly in times of disaster and crisis. Charitable groups work closely with local and federal governments when helping in times of crisis.

Although faith-based groups are providing a majority of aid, they're working closely with FEMA on relief efforts.

Seventh Day Adventists have already collaborated with FEMA to secure a warehouse in Texas for relief efforts, and have organized many volunteers to prepare food and supplies.

Although faith-based groups are providing a majority of aid, they're working closely with FEMA on relief efforts, said Luther Harrison, vice president of North American Ministries for Samaritan's Purse.

"FEMA — they have been a big blessing to us, they're an assistance to us," Harrison told USA Today. These faith groups provide some of the most critical resources, including trained volunteers and early-response teams, the publication noted.

The Christian relief organizations are not only providing volunteers and manpower, but necessities and food. This comes at no extra cost to the government, Harrison told USA Today. The hours worked have brought in more than $650,000 in matching donations of state aid.

Related: The Pope's Decision on Biblical Text: Is It a Political Move? [4]

"Five Samaritan's Purse disaster relief units are now in Texas to equip staff and volunteers as they serve residents recovering from Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath," the Samaritan's Purse site explains. "We have volunteer bases set up and operating in Houston and Pearland, just south of the city."

"People have lost their homes, and some have lost everything," Franklin Graham said on his group's website. "We want to go and we want to be there in their time of need, [5] helping them in the name of Jesus Christ put their lives back together again."

Convoy of Hope has also been making large contributions in aid for Harvey victims and will soon be turning out more for the victims of Irma. The group's website says it has helped over 158,000 people in Texas; it's delivered over three million pounds of supplies to 118 sites. More than 2,000 volunteers have logged over 9,000 hours of helping people in Texas. Since Irma hit land, Convoy of Hope has been standing by with supplies and teams positioned to help.

Related: How This Actress Saved Two Families from Hurricane Irma [6]

"About 80 percent of all recovery happens because of nonprofits, and the majority of them are faith-based," Greg Forrester, CEO of the National VOAD [Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster], told USA Today. He also said individuals and volunteers, as well as corporation and churches, raise the money. The amount of money raised can reach up to billions of dollars for disaster relief.

FEMA and these faith-based nonprofits have a beautiful and necessary relationship, Rev. Jamie Johnson, director of the Department of Homeland Security's Center for Faith-Based & Neighborhood Partnerships, told USA Today. "FEMA cannot do what it does so well without the cooperation of faith-based nonprofit organizations and churches."

Steffani Jacobs is a freelance writer in the Twin Cities area. She has written about everything from military history and weaponry to theology and church doctrine.