Herman: Take time to know where your Harvey donations are going

At yet another tricky intersection of church and state — in this case church and city — Austin’s mayor in recent days asked the Austin Disaster Relief Network to make it clear that volunteers for its Hurricane Harvey relief efforts don’t have to adhere to the organization’s Christian values.

“I’m glad that ADRN has always welcomed volunteers in a disaster regardless of religious beliefs,” Mayor Steve Adler said Tuesday. “I was not personally comfortable sending folks to an organization that was not welcoming to all who want to help, and I’m glad to find out that the impression that this was not the case was the result of confusion due to website layout and not exclusionary policies.

“ADRN is doing great work,” Adler said, “and I’m glad to be able to support their efforts.”

HOW TO HELP: Austin volunteers, donations needed for Harvey relief

The network’s executive director, Daniel Geraci, acknowledged his organization had not made it as clear as possible that it offers two volunteer pathways. The one that requires adherence to its religious values is for permanent volunteers. But the network now is welcoming, without requiring adherence to its religious principles, “community volunteers” for its ongoing Hurricane Harvey relief efforts.

This is good. Folks still reeling from the storm’s impact needs all the help they can get, regardless of the religious views of anybody involved.

The city, until Monday, had included the network on its Harvey relief website, noting the nonprofit “is accepting monetary and survivor item donations.” City spokesman David Green said the Austin Disaster Relief Network was removed from the website “after looking at existing need.”

“They were who we had been directing the community for handling physical donations of supplies,” Green said. “As our operations are winding down, we’re no longer encouraging the community to make physical donations locally. So we’ve taken that off.”

The Austin Disaster Relief Network says it’s shipped more than 70 truckloads of goods and assisted more than 2,200 Harvey survivors, providing housing, financial help, supplies and “emotional and spiritual care.”

That last one is where things can get tricky.


When Austinite Sharon Weintraub dropped off toiletries, cleaning supplies and socks at a network-run disaster relief location, she asked about volunteering to help sort the voluminous donations. Weintraub, in an email to Adler, said she was told to sign up through the organization’s website, which is rather dense.

She found her way to the section that required volunteers to agree to the statement of faith, which says, among other things, “that all people everywhere are lost and face the judgment of God, that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation.”

For Weintraub, a Jew, this was a nonstarter, as she said in the email that got the mayor’s attention.

Geraci says he is sorry for the confusion and that all are welcome to help, regardless of religion.

“When the Mayor’s Office called the other day, he pointed that out,” Geraci said of the possible confusion on the network’s website. “Our only mistake was we thought we were making it clear enough. … We’ve made it now straighter and cleaner and easier.”

The network, which has been involved in previous disaster relief efforts, is a member of Central Texas Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, which requires member organizations to give aid “regardless of the race, creed or nationality of the recipients, and without adverse distinction of any kind.”

Warning: 10 ways to spot Harvey relief scams

Established in 2009, the network says it’s “comprised of over 175 Greater Austin churches and thousands of trained volunteers bringing hope into crisis.” The organization acknowledges its religious goals.

“ADRN’s primary goal is to serve Christ by sponsoring families affected by disaster though (its) Disaster Relief Shepherd program,” the website says.

A “spiritual readiness training” course affiliated with that program claims to “teach you how to biblically pray with disaster survivors, care for them properly and share the good news of the gospel to those in great need of His transforming power and love.”

The network’s statement of faith includes a belief that “God’s plan for human sexuality is to be expressed only within the context of marriage” and that “God instituted monogamous marriage between one genetic male and one genetic female as the foundation of the family and the basic structure of human society.”

Despite those beliefs, the network says it “will not withhold disaster support in the form of physical, emotional and spiritual needs, regardless of citizenship, race, religion, age, sex, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, veteran status or political affiliation” and that it “strongly opposes victimization or violence against any sector of society that disagrees with the biblical view. We honor the dignity and rights of all who differ from us on the matter of human sexuality.”

It seems the bottom line here is we should thank all who help in disaster relief. There’s nothing wrong — and probably a lot right — about organizations whose religious beliefs lead them to help in such times.

But government entities must be careful about aligning with organizations that might use disasters as an invitation for proselytizing.

And, as always, donors should be cognizant of to whom they’re donating and what their donations might support.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Opinion

Opinion: Can Republicans and Dems reach compromise on immigration?

Rep. Kevin Yoder has two daughters, ages 2 and 4. A busy schedule of political obligations requires the Kansas Republican to be separated at times from those precious little people. It’s a feeling many parents know. Those two girls were on his mind recently when we spoke by phone to discuss the fates of thousands of would-be immigrant children...
Letters to the editor: June 18, 2018
Letters to the editor: June 18, 2018

I’ve read stories about babies being torn from their mothers while breastfeeding — and children being taken away to bathe, never to return. I read of a father who hanged himself after being separated from his wife and three-year-old. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, and Rep. John Carter all claim to be Christians. They claim to represent...
Opinion: Singapore summit was a historic snooker

The headline writers adore the word “historic.” It was ubiquitous in reporting on the April meeting between Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae-in. Kim shook Moon’s hand and then guided him over the military demarcation line to step onto North Korean territory. This prompted swoons. If that was a bona fide gesture of peaceful intent, time will...
Opinion: A quisling and his enablers

This is not a column about whether Donald Trump is a quisling — a politician who serves the interests of foreign masters at his own country’s expense. Any reasonable doubts about that reality were put to rest by the events of the past few days, when he defended Russia while attacking our closest allies. We don’t know Trump’s...
Letters to the editor: June 17, 2018
Letters to the editor: June 17, 2018

Father’s Day for me is sweet and bitter. I soak up the love and appreciation, the hugs and treats. But I also feel the father’s duty to protect my daughters from harm. We fathers are rapidly losing control over that. I feel for the California fathers whose children’s homes burned in wildfires last year. I feel for the Puerto Rican...
More Stories