The Humanitarian Disaster Institute (HDI) at Wheaton College partnered with Lutheran Church Charities (LCC) to collect relief materials for victims of Hurricane Michael in October. HDI is “a research center [that] looks at the psychology of faith and trauma and resilience,” according to communication specialist Laura Leonard.
“We’re looking at how faith impacts the way people experience trauma, specifically in natural disasters and humanitarian crises.”
Founded in 2012, HDI’s office is currently located above Wheaton’s bookstore. In May, they launched a master’s degree in Humanitarian Disaster Leadership. Students carried out the Hurricane Michael relief project. HDI primarily focuses its efforts on research and training and had never before taken on a resource collection project.
Leonard explained that “the goal of the program [is] to prepare [our students] to go and be leaders… that’s why we intentionally let them take the reigns here and let this be a project in leadership.” Hurricane Michael, the disaster which prompted HDI to initiate a service project, was a Category Four Atlantic hurricane that formed on Oct. 7 and lasted through Oct. 16. Affected areas included Florida, Georgia, Cuba and the Cayman Islands, with fatalities reaching into the upper 50s. Hospitals, schools and other critical organizations were unable to offer services due to lack of power and debilitating damages.
Two pallets of tarps, two pallets of gloves, one pallet of toiletries and diapers, one pallet of paper products and other needed supplies were collected for Hurricane Michael victims.
All supplies were delivered to Trinity Lutheran Church in Panama City, Fl. The church “has a food and other basic item pantry serving 6,000 people per week,” according to Deb Baran, LCC’s Director of Communications.
Along with collecting necessary supplies, LCC sends out several teams to assist after a natural disaster or humanitarian crisis. Immediately after Hurricane Michael, a “chainsaw crew” was sent out to clear fallen trees and other debris.
A Lutheran Early Response Team, one of the teams LCC organizes, will be sent down on Nov. 10 to help with physical recovery efforts. Cheryl Sorenson, a student in the HDI masters program, led the Hurricane Michael relief project. “What is so remarkable about this program is that the professors are so encouraging as we go out and we try projects,” she said. “Overall, for the Humanitarian Disaster Institute, the access that we have to professionals in the humanitarian disaster field, the knowledge base that’s available to us and resources that come from being students of people who have worked in the field is so valuable.”
Sorenson also initiated the partnership between HDI and LCC, a “not for profit, Christian- based organization that does disaster and crisis response, both nationally and internationally,” according to its CEO Tim Hetzner. “Our mission is to share the mercy, compassion, presence and proclamation of Jesus Christ to those who suffer.”
In addition to designating HDI as a collection site for relief materials, Sorenson also organized collection sites at Wheaton Christian Grammar School, the Community School of the Arts and Family in Faith Christian Church. Between the four collection sites, “there was a tremendous response,” Sorenson said.
Both LCC and HDI seek to glorify God in their responses to crises such as Hurricane Michael. “The proclamation of the gospel is in our actions and also in our words,” said Hetzner. Sorenson echoed his sentiments: “We do everything with a Christian worldview and that is what is motivating us as we go forth.”