NEW YORK (UMNS) - With a tentative cease-fire holding between Israel and Hamas, humanitarian organizations are stepping up their assistance to Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip.

Action by Churches Together (ACT), representing more than 130 church-based relief agencies, including the United Methodist Committee on Relief and Church World Service, has issued an appeal for $4 million to provide immediate relief there.

UMCOR has requested that its $50,000 grant to ACT be implemented through the Department of Services to Palestinian Refugees of the Middle East Council of Churches. Melissa Crutchfield, who oversees international disaster response for UMCOR, said Jan. 26 that the organization is a "long-term trusted partner" of The United Methodist Church. Another $50,000 grant has been made to Muslim Aid, also an UMCOR partner.

ACT estimates that 50,000 people are homeless and 400,000 are without running water.

The coalition has targeted some 15,000 displaced people to receive food distribution and already has gathered nutritional biscuits, water, milk, milk powder and medicine.

The United Nations reported Jan. 26 that it had 10 distribution centers open and was feeding 25,000 people per day. The U.N. World Food Program also has distributed 95 tons of food aid to nearly 6,000 people in Gaza City and North Gaza. Critical needs include spare parts and fuel for the power plant, hospitals and water and sewage treatment facilities, and construction materials for rebuilding.

Unrestricted access for humanitarian groups is critical as well. The U.N. press release said such groups "have faced unprecedented denial of access to Gaza" by Israel since Nov. 5 and that access remains unreliable. Liv Steimoeggen, the ACT representative in Jerusalem, has called for open borders for humanitarian relief, along with safe and free distribution.

Working with UMCOR and other ACT partners, the Department of Services to Palestinian Refugees plans to improve food security through cash grants, cash for work or food to families; help cover health care fees and medical needs for the poorest families; tend to trauma and stress faced by families coming to the clinics; rehabilitate health facilities; and improve the livelihood of farming families. Special attention will be given throughout to women and children.

United Methodists can contribute to UMCOR's humanitarian work in Gaza by making donations to "Middle East Emergency, UMCOR Advance #601740." Donors can place checks in church collection plates; go to www.umcor.org and click on "Gaza Crisis"; call 888-252-6174; or mail a check to Advance GCFA, P.O. Box 9068, GPO, New York, NY 10087-9068.

Linda Bloom serves as a reporter for the United Methodist News Service. She is based in New York City.