Listening to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) or reading The New York Times yesterday gave the impression that disaster relief victims were suffering from a lack of government aid.

“Without additional funding,” Reid warned, “thousands of people who have lost literally everything they owned will be forced to go without food and shelter.”

The New York Times, reporting from Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania, noted, “Uprooted and desolate, hard-working people in this part of the country expect a bit more from their government.”

Yesterday, with Reid on the brink of forcing a government shutdown, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced that things arent so dire. The agency has $114 million on hand for the remainder of the week, enough to get through the end of the fiscal year on September 30.

So the agenda of the tax-and-spend crowd is now clear. President Obama created the problem by overusing FEMA on disasters a record 222 times so far this year where federal aid was not essential. Then liberals manufactured a crisis and exploited disaster relief victims in order to keep expanding the size of government. What’s worse is that the some members of the media played along with it.

Not once in yesterday’s Times story does it mention the role of private charities in and around Tunkhannock. Yet a few phone calls by Heritage revealed that these organizations are doing yeoman’s work for flood victims. They’re playing a vital role that Reid and the Big Government amen corner completely ignored in the funding dispute.

Take the Wyoming County United Way, for example. Its executive director, Connie Pheiff, said she’s been overwhelmed by the community’s generous support. Private citizens have donated food, clothing and furniture — so much that Pheiff is now looking for a warehouse in Scranton to store the items until flood victims are ready to accept the donations.

Private industry has also stepped forward to make an incredible difference in the community. Pheiff acknowledged the support of a handful of oil and gas companies, many conducting hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in the area. Those companies suspended work for days to help evacuees at all hours of the day.

So far the Wyoming County United Way has received 2,000 disaster-assistance applications. Pheiff expects that number to more than double in the coming weeks. The organization is offering vouchers and providing support for temporary housing. Pheiff said private donations to the group have made it possible.

While the local United Way is helping with housing, other groups have stepped forward to feed families. Ed Shaffer of the Seven Loaves Soup Kitchen in Tunkhannock is supplying goods to food shelters and collecting perishable items from community organizations. He said there’s been no shortage of donations.

The Weinberg Regional Food Bank, meanwhile, has fed 6,500 families, the equivalent of 15,000 people. Gene Brady, executive director of the Commission on Economic Opportunity, said the food bank is serving three counties hit hardest by the floods in Pennsylvania.

It has received 233,863 pounds of food and disbursed 176,759 pounds. Brady credited private companies such as Procter & Gamble, Nature’s Way, and Wegmans for coming through with large donations of paper products and food. Local retailers have also pitched in to help.

Those are just a few examples we found in Pennsylvania. But these stories aren’t isolated. Communities across America come together after disasters to provide relief to those in need. They also do a better job of it than FEMA or any other government agency.

Writing about grassroots disaster response, Heritage’s James Carafano and Jennifer Marshall noted, “The greatest advance that America could make in preparing for catastrophic disasters is to build better individual-based programs, a culture of preparedness, and resilient and self-reliant communities.”

That’s because these groups are more personally engaged than a government agency or bureaucrat could ever be. Heritage’s Ryan Messmore has observed:

Driven by deep convictions and compassion, such organizations can provide loving forms of assistance and care that government programs cannot offer. And they often do so for less money. Smaller and more flexible than most government bureaucracies, local congregations and charities can also spawn creative social innovations that benefit those in need.

In his speech to the Senate yesterday, Reid spoke glowingly of the miracles performed by FEMA while trashing those asking for offsets to pay for the additional spending.

“Republicans must not continue to block FEMA from getting the resources it needs to help disaster victims,” Reid said, an assertion even that FEMA has now debunked.

Reid failed to acknowledge a single private charity helping with disaster relief. The Times published a 1,000-word article about the same Pennsylvania community we’ve told you about. Upon reading the Times story, you might think private charities don’t exist there.

Liberals in Washington and New York have spent too much time isolated in a bubble. They’ve become too reliant on government to solve all of America’s problems. It’s time to put faith back in our communities.

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