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The Role of the Church in Emergency Response

Updated: Apr 25, 2023



The Short:


Churches historically provide emergency food assistance during crises, but many lack preparedness which could lead to catastrophic consequences during disasters.

• Inadequate support from churches may result in violence and looting, which could hinder emergency responders' efforts to maintain order and provide aid.

• Churches must acknowledge their role in emergency management and take proactive steps to ensure preparedness, including the opportunity for congregants to contribute to efforts.

Contributing to the church's emergency food supply fund promotes personal responsibility, community building, supports government response efforts, and gives members a sense of purpose.


Church History of Emergency Care


Churches have a long history of caring for people during crises, particularly in providing emergency food assistance to those in need. This practice dates back centuries and can be traced to numerous examples throughout history.

One of the earliest recorded examples of churches providing emergency food aid dates back to the fourth century when St. Basil the Great, a bishop in what is now modern-day Turkey, established a network of soup kitchens and other charitable institutions to feed the poor and hungry during a famine. St. Basil's efforts were widely recognized for their impact on the community and served as a model for future charitable organizations.

Churches responded in Europe during the Black Death pandemic in the 14th century. In many cities, churches were crucial in providing food and care to the sick and dying. Priests and nuns often risked their own lives to attend to the needs of those suffering from the disease, and many religious orders established hospitals and other institutions to provide care.

During World War II, many churches across Europe and other parts of the world stepped up to provide food aid and other assistance to those affected by the conflict. In particular, the Quakers and other religious groups played a significant role in providing food and supplies to those affected by the war, including refugees and prisoners of war.

More recently, churches have continued to play a vital role in providing emergency food assistance to those in need. In the United States, for example, many churches operate food pantries and soup kitchens to aid to low-income individuals and families. Churches have played an important role in responding to natural disasters, such as hurricanes and earthquakes, by offering food and other assistance to affected communities.

The role of churches in caring for their communities during times of crisis cannot be overstated.

But What if Churches Didn’t Offer Food Support?

In the event of a major disaster, the lack of preparedness by American churches in could lead to catastrophic consequences. During and after a disaster, people often find themselves without access to basic necessities, such as food and clean water. If churches cannot provide aid to these individuals, it could lead to widespread hunger and malnutrition.

Businesses may suffer if they cannot access the necessary resources to continue operating. Nutrition is necessary for employees to have the energy to work, and without it, workers' productivity would decrease. Eventually people would lose jobs and exacerbate the economic impact of the disaster.

The absence of aid from churches could also lead to social unrest as people struggle to survive and compete for scarce resources. With an atmosphere of desperation and chaos, emergency responders will find it difficult to provide assistance and restore order.

There are many examples of how things can play out in communities. Here are a few global failures to consider.

1. Hurricane Katrina, U.S.A.: In 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, leaving thousands of residents stranded without food, water, or electricity. With aid from churches slow to arrive, people resorted to looting stores for essential supplies, leading to widespread social unrest and chaos. 2. Haiti earthquake: In 2010, a devastating earthquake struck Haiti, leaving millions of people without shelter, food, or water. In the absence of aid from churches and other organizations, people turned to violence to secure basic necessities, leading to widespread looting. 3. Syrian refugee crisis: Since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011, millions of people have been displaced, leading to a refugee crisis in neighboring countries. With limited aid from churches and other organizations, refugees have struggled to access basic necessities such as food and water, leading to social unrest and violence in some areas. 4. Venezuela crisis: The economic crisis in Venezuela has led to widespread food shortages and hunger, with many people struggling to access basic necessities. In the absence of aid from churches and the government, people have turned to violence and looting to obtain food and other essential supplies. 5. COVID-19 pandemic, U.S.A.: The COVID-19 pandemic led to widespread unemployment and economic insecurity, with many people struggling to access food and other essential supplies. With aid from churches and other organizations stretched thin, people in some areas have turned to looting and other forms of violence to secure basic necessities. In some cases, emergency responders have struggled to provide assistance and maintain order.


During COVID, What Areas Were Hit Hardest in the U.S.?

Typically, densely populated urban areas and regions with higher rates of poverty and unemployment, as well as areas with a higher concentration of elderly or immunocompromised individuals were most underserved.

Some of the hardest-hit areas included:

  1. New York City and surrounding areas in New York state

  2. New Jersey

  3. Louisiana, particularly the New Orleans area

  4. Michigan, particularly the Detroit area

  5. Massachusetts, particularly the Boston area

  6. California, particularly the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas

  7. Arizona, particularly the Phoenix area

  8. Texas, particularly the Houston and Dallas areas

  9. Florida, particularly the Miami and Tampa areas


Overall, the failure of American churches to prepare for disasters by having food and resources available could have far-reaching and devastating consequences for individuals, businesses, and society as a whole. Therefore, churches must recognize their role in emergency management and take proactive steps to ensure they are adequately prepared to respond to disasters.


What Can Secure Foods Do to Make The Difference?


Having every church in America equipped with a 72-hour supply of high-quality emergency food for every one of their congregants would be a significant step in the right direction toward a more prepared and resilient community. Such preparedness measures would ensure that in a disaster, people could rely on their churches for basic needs, such as food and water until further help arrives.

As a central pillar of communities, this level of preparedness would strengthen the loyalty of congregants to their churches and reinforce the church's role. The goodwill generated by the church's efforts to care for their congregants during times of crisis would also extend to the wider community, improving overall community spirit.

Having churches with emergency supplies of high-quality food would positively impact the workforce, as it would help ensure that employees who may be directly or indirectly affected by a disaster are not left without basic necessities, leading to a more rapid recovery.

Furthermore, having this kind of emergency food supply would make rebuilding the community after the disaster much easier, as the churches could also use their supplies to help others in need. Churches could work together to provide food and other necessary supplies to their communities, fostering collaboration and community building.

Overall, it is clear that having churches with a 72-hour supply of high-quality emergency food for their congregants would significantly improve the community's ability to handle disasters and to support each other during difficult times.


FEMA Can't Do It All


There are several ways in which having every church in America equipped with high-quality emergency food would be a better solution than relying solely no government resources during a disaster.

  1. Faster response time: Churches are often located within the community and have the advantage of being able to mobilize quickly in the event of a disaster. This means they can respond faster than government agencies and provide immediate relief to those in need.

  2. Personalized attention: Churches have a close relationship with their congregants and are more likely to be able to provide personalized attention and support during a disaster. They can offer emotional and spiritual support and practical assistance like transportation or shelter.

  3. Community building: Churches are often at the center of a community and can play a crucial role in bringing people together during a crisis. By providing emergency food and other resources, churches can help build a sense of community and resilience that can help the community recover more quickly.

  4. Reduced burden on government resources: By having churches provide emergency food, the burden on government resources can be reduced. This means that government agencies can focus on other important tasks, such as search and rescue, while the churches take care of immediate needs.

  5. Increased sense of responsibility: By having churches provide emergency food, congregants are more likely to feel a sense of ownership for their fellow neighbors' safety and well-being. This can lead to increased preparedness and a greater sense of self-reliance.

Compared to FEMA camps, having every church equipped with emergency food provides a more localized and community-driven approach. FEMA camps can be overwhelming and isolating for many people, while churches can provide a sense of familiarity and comfort. Relying solely on FEMA camps can strain government resources, while having churches provide emergency food can help alleviate some of that pressure.

How Can Churches Support Government and Local Groups?

It would offer incredible help and assistance to the Emergency Support Function of the National Response Framework (ESF NRF), Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs), and State Emergency Response Commissions (SERCs).


Here's how:


1. The Emergency Support Function of the National Response Framework (ESF NRF)


The ESF NRF is a framework established by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to coordinate federal support to state, local, tribal, and territorial governments during domestic incidents. One of the key functions of the ESF NRF is to provide emergency food and water to affected communities.

If every church in America had a 72-hour supply of high-quality emergency food for each congregant, this could alleviate the burden on the ESF NRF by reducing the number of people who need emergency food assistance. The churches could also serve as distribution centers for emergency food, providing a local point of contact for communities in need.


2. Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs)


LEPCs are local organizations that are responsible for developing emergency plans to protect the public in the event of an emergency or disaster. LEPCs are required by law to include representatives from local churches and other faith-based organizations.

If every church in America had a 72-hour supply of high-quality emergency food for each congregant, this could provide a valuable resource for LEPCs in developing emergency plans. The churches could work with the LEPCs to develop distribution plans for emergency food and provide a local point of contact for communities in need.


3. State Emergency Response Commissions (SERCs)


SERCs are state-level organizations responsible for coordinating emergency response efforts during disasters and other emergencies. SERCs are required by law to include representatives from local churches and other faith-based organizations.

With a 72-hour supply of high-quality emergency food for each congregant, this could be a valuable resource for SERCs in coordinating emergency response efforts. The churches could work with the SERCs to develop distribution plans for emergency food and provide a local point of contact for communities in need. Overall, having every church in America equipped with high-quality emergency food can be a valuable asset during a disaster. It can provide faster response times, personalized attention, community building, reduced burden on government resources, and an increased sense of responsibility.


This would ultimately lead to a more resilient and self-reliant community better equipped to recover from a disaster.

Obstacles to Getting it Done?


Nonetheless, there are still potential obstacles that could hinder the success of this idea.


Firstly, there is the issue of funding. Providing every church with enough emergency food for their entire congregation would require a significant financial investment. Churches would need to allocate resources to purchase the food, store it properly, and rotate it periodically to ensure it remains fresh and safe to consume. This can be a significant burden for smaller churches with limited resources.

Secondly, there is the challenge of logistics. Distributing and storing large quantities of food requires careful planning and execution and the necessary infrastructure to store and transport the food. This can be especially challenging in areas prone to natural disasters, where roads and transportation routes may be disrupted.

Thirdly, ensuring that the food is high quality and has a long shelf life, is essential. While Secure Foods has up to a 25-year shelf life, not all emergency food options have the same shelf life. It is important to ensure that the food is safe to consume and provides the necessary nutrients for individuals in emergency situations.

Lastly, there is the challenge of ensuring that emergency food is used appropriately and is distributed fairly. Churches may need to establish protocols for how the food is distributed and consumed and ensure that a few individuals do not hoard it. This requires trust and cooperation within the congregation.

Despite these potential obstacles, the benefits of every church having enough emergency food for their congregation far outweigh the challenges. This would alleviate pressure on county, state, and federal governments and foster a sense of community and preparedness among congregants. It would also enable churches to serve as a valuable resource during times of crisis, providing essential support to their communities.


How many places of worship are there in the USA, and how many congregants?

According to the latest data from the Pew Research Center, there were about 384,000 congregations in the United States in 2019. This includes churches, synagogues, mosques, and other places of worship. The number of congregants varies greatly depending on the size of the congregation and the religious denomination.

In 2014, the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies (ASARB) conducted a religious census that estimated the number of adherents (including members and regular attendees) for various religious groups in the United States. According to their data, Christianity is the largest religious group in the United States, with over 228 million adherents. Other major religious groups include Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Sikhism.

It is important to note that attendance patterns vary among different religious groups and regions of the United States. Some churches have a small number of regular attendees, while others have large congregations in the thousands. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted attendance patterns for many places of worship, with some congregations moving to online services or limiting in-person attendance.

Overall, the number of congregants in the United States is difficult to estimate precisely. Still, it is clear that many millions of people attend churches, synagogues, and other places of worship regularly. These congregations represent a significant potential resource for emergency management and disaster response efforts.


Places of Worship: Americas Backbone, Especially In Crises

It is truly staggering to imagine the positive impact that all of the congregants of places of worship could have on their communities. Imagine the impact if they were all prepared to assist during times of crisis with emergency food assistance. With an estimated 350,000 religious congregations and over 150 million regular attendees in the United States alone, the potential for these organizations to make a significant difference in times of disaster is immense.

By ensuring that each congregant has access to high-quality emergency food with a long shelf life, places of worship could help alleviate the burden on government resources and emergency services during times of crisis. This would free up resources to focus on other critical needs such as medical care and search and rescue efforts.

The sense of community and loyalty that often develops within congregations could be leveraged to strengthen social bonds and promote the community's overall well-being. When people know that they can rely on their neighbors and fellow congregants during times of crisis, they are more likely to feel a sense of security and support, which can positively impact mental health and resilience.

Moreover, the workforce potential of this group of people could be utilized to help with rebuilding efforts after a disaster. Many congregants have valuable skills and resources that could be used to help rebuild homes and businesses that have been damaged or destroyed during a crisis.

Overall, the potential impact of having all congregations equipped and prepared to provide emergency food assistance must be balanced. It could lead to a more resilient and self-reliant community, with stronger social bonds and a greater sense of security and support during times of crisis.

Resources and Other Reading

1. "The History of the Christian Church During the First Ten Centuries" by Philip Schaff, Chapter 14: "Christian Charity and Relief of the Poor". Link: https://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/hcc1.i.XIV.html 2. "The Role of the Church in Disaster Response" by Elizabeth Ferris and Erin Hogan Fouberg, published by the Brookings Institution. Link: https://www.brookings.edu/research/the-role-of-the-church-in-disaster-response/ 3. "The Church's Response to Famine" by Charles B. Mantey, published by The Gospel Coalition. Link: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/the-churchs-response-to-famine/ 4. "Faith-based Organizations and Service Delivery: Some Evidence from Federal Emergency Management" by Mark Skidmore and Hideki Toya, published in the Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory. Link: https://academic.oup.com/jpart/article-abstract/14/2/103/700745 5. "Quaker Service in World War II" by Thomas D. Hamm, published by Friends Journal. Link: https://www.friendsjournal.org/quaker-service-in-world-war-ii/ 6. "Churches and the Black Death: A Case Study in Disaster Response" by Richard H. Gassan, published by the Journal of Humanitarian Assistance. Link: https://sites.tufts.edu/jha/archives/239 7. The History of Food Banking URL: https://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-blog/history-food-banking 8. St. Basil the Great URL: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Basil-the-Great 9. Pandemics and the Church: How History Repeats Itself URL: https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/2020/march/pandemics-christians-church-history.html 10. Religion and Relief in World War II URL: https://www.ushmm.org/collections/bibliography/religion-and-relief-in-world-war-ii 11. Church Emergency Preparedness Planning URL: https://www.agrm.org/resources/docs/Church-Emergency-Preparedness-Planning.pdf 12. Emergency Food and Water Supplies for Your Home URL: https://www.ready.gov/food-water 13. The Role of Faith-Based Organizations in Disaster Response URL: https://www.nationalpreparednessleadershipinitiative.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Role-of-FBOs-in-Disaster-Response-08.pdf 14. Churches Are Helping Distribute Aid During COVID-19 Pandemic URL: https://www.usnews.com/news/health-news/articles/2020-04-29/churches-are-helping-distribute-aid-during-covid-19-pandemic 15. National Church Resilience Network URL: https://www.ncrn.org/ 16. Emergency Management for Houses of Worship URL: https://www.fema.gov/pdf/plan/faith/EM%20Houses%20of%20Worship.pdf 17. "The Role of Churches in Disaster Response and Recovery" by National VOAD - This report provides an overview of the role of churches and faith-based organizations in disaster response and recovery, including case studies and best practices. URL: https://www.nvoad.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Role-of-Churches-in-Disaster-Response-and-Recovery.pdf 18. "Churches and Emergencies: A Guide to Preparedness and Response" by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) - This guide provides information and resources for churches to prepare for and respond to emergencies, including a section on food and water supplies. URL: https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/20130726-1852-25045-6766/churches_emergencies508.pdf 19. "Faith and Voluntary Organizations in Disaster Response and Recovery" by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine - This report examines the role of faith-based and voluntary organizations in disaster response and recovery, including case studies and recommendations for improving coordination and collaboration. URL: https://www.nap.edu/catalog/21834/faith-and-voluntary-organizations-in-disaster-response-and-recovery 20. "Churches and Emergency Management: An Analysis of the Literature" by the Journal of Emergency Management - This article provides a review and analysis of existing literature on the role of churches in emergency management, including a section on food assistance. URL: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.5055/jem.2006.0019 21. "The Disaster Response Role of Faith-Based Organizations" by the American Red Cross - This article discusses the important role that faith-based organizations, including churches, play in disaster response and recovery, and highlights some best practices for partnering with them. URL: https://www.redcross.org/content/dam/redcross/atg/PDF_s/International_Services/DRR_FBO_Guide.pdf 22. "St. Basil the Great." New Advent. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02384b.htm 23. "The Black Death and Its Impact on the Church and Popular Religion." Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/event/Black-Death/The-effect-of-the-Black-Death-on-the-church-and-popular-religion 24. 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