It won’t come as a surprise to you that FEMA wasn’t viewed as very effective amongst us ground personnel during my time with the Red Cross in the Hurricane Katrina Relief effort of 2005. At least not initially. Red Cross itself had major logistical and organizational issues in the beginning of the mission. But you know who knew how to spring into action? Local groups.

One, 100 Black Men of America, was a lifesaver to 1000 Hurricane survivors in Baton Rouge, where the shelters were located and I was stationed. When we needed food, supplies, volunteers, etc., we went to them until the the major players got their acts together. That civic group never let us down.

As such, we’re spending money in Poland and other countries to deal with the millions of refugees from the Ukrainian War. Those resources would be best spent focusing on local civic and faith-based groups to do the work on the ground. A.J. Nolte and Arielle Del Turco of Regent University pick up the story.

Nolte: While Russia continues to attack civilian areas and fire projectiles at residential areas in Ukraine, it has sparked the largest humanitarian disaster in Europe since World War II. It’s already estimated that four million Ukrainians have fled the country, with more on the way.

In response, the White House has asked Congress to authorize $10 billion in humanitarian, economic and security assistance, $5 billion of which would be allocated to the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to help Ukraine and allies in the region. As Congress works to allocate funds, particular attention should be paid to supporting some of the development actors who have been proven most effective – local and faith-based organizations.

Ukrainian churches are already on the front lines responding to the immediate needs of people within the country, and congregations around the world are funneling support to churches and organizations in Ukraine. Christian humanitarian aid organization Samaritan’s Purse is also sending aid and deploying five field hospitals. Other organizations, are sending resources and staff to assist Ukrainian refugees who have fled to Poland.

Religious communities in the United States and in impacted countries are asking and answering the same vital questions as Congress: What do you need, and how can we help?

The positive impact of local and faith-based organizations on humanitarian response is tried and true. Over the past 10 months, a team of researchers at Regent University and Family Research Council have studied the relationship between religious freedom and international development. The resulting report to be released soon highlights the profoundly positive role faith-based organizations play responding to crises and fostering human flourishing. They need only to be given the space to do so.

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Faith-based organizations are often the first responders to any humanitarian disaster, have tremendous influence within effected populations, and produce positive outcomes at a lower cost over a longer period of time than many other development actors. Faith-based organizations can respond quickly as they already have relationships, and most importantly, trust, on the ground.

If Congress wants to get the most bang for their buck when it comes to humanitarian aid for Ukrainian victims of the Russian invasion, serious consideration should be given to establishing something along the lines of the New Partnership Initiative (NPI) that USAID launched to address the humanitarian crisis caused by ISIS’ genocide against Yazidis, Christians, and other minorities in Iraq.

The purpose of NPI was to equip and empower local and faith-based actors, who are able to offer smart, targeted, sustainable development assistance to their effected communities. Our research demonstrates that the NPI made important contributions, developing a process that was easy for faith-based actors to use…

As Putin’s unprovoked invasion escalates into an increasingly brutal and indiscriminate campaign of attacks on civilians, the humanitarian crisis will grow exponentially worse, and faith-based development actors will remain on the front lines. If Congress wants to maximize its ability to meet the needs of those suffering from the war, the forthcoming aid package must prioritize partnering with these groups.