Florida churches prepare for hurricane season
|A UMNS photo courtesy of Jocelyn Augustino, FEMA
Sand pushed ashore by Hurricane Wilma covers the streets of Key West, Fla.
May 16, 2006
By Nancy E. Johnson*
ORLANDO, Fla. (UMNS) — While many Florida communities continue to
recover from Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma, they are also gearing up for
the next round of storms.
Experts predict another active season, beginning June 1, and Florida
United Methodists are planning how they’ll help meet the needs in their
In Broward and Miami-Dade counties, the poor and elderly suffered the
most during the last hurricane season, according to the Rev. Debbie
McLeod, superintendent of the Florida Conference’s South East District.
“These poor families with low-paying jobs don’t have enough food to
eat on a good day,” she said. “Then, the governor says stock up on
nonperishables. Well, they can’t afford to save the food and not eat
Government agencies and charitable organizations are set up to help
hurricane victims, but McLeod said churches learned many of their
neighbors slipped through the cracks in the system.
“In the rural areas, you have undocumented citizens who are afraid to
go to FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency),” she said. “And then
buses don’t run when there’s no electricity or gas, so there’s no way
for people to get to FEMA sites for ice and food.”
The district is asking churches to identify a local disaster
coordinator who will prepare their church’s plan and response and form
congregational care teams that can identify vulnerable populations —
widows, shut-ins, single mothers, people with special needs, mobile home
residents, the elderly. The teams should get contact information for
those special populations, find out where they’re staying during the
storm and then follow up with them after the storm.
|A UMNS photo by Tita Parham
the wake of Hurricane Wilma, American Red Cross volunteers serve dinner
to area residents on the grounds of Florida City United Methodist
“We’re asking that they check on their own congregation first, which
takes about a day; then, remove debris from the doors of the church so
they can get in the kitchen and start cooking meals. By day two, start
walking the neighborhoods, looking for people in need,” McLeod said. She
added that churches must get to know their neighbors.
During the last hurricane season, McLeod said she discovered cultural
issues that affect a church’s response. Many of the Haitians in her
community don’t like to eat cold food, so she has suggested churches
cook rice, beans and other staples for them. Also, churches in her
district received many calls from elderly people trapped on the upper
floors of their apartment complexes.
“If someone is on a walker or in a wheelchair and the elevator is out
for two weeks, they can’t get out to find food, so we’re challenging
churches to find out where those seniors are,” she said.
Lessons learned in 2004
The Rev. David Harris, pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church in
Arcadia, said his community escaped last year’s hurricanes, but it’s
still recovering from the triple threat of Hurricanes Charlie, Frances
and Jeanne in 2004. When those storms hit, he said, there was no
coordinated relief structure in place, so he took the lead in
establishing a VOAD (Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster) group.
Members of VOAD work together to respond to community disasters. As a
group they are better connected and continue to develop in their
understanding of disaster relief as a response community, rather than as
individual agencies and nonprofit groups, according to Harris.
|A UMNS photo by the Rev. David Harris
Volunteers gather in Trinity United Methodist Church, Arcadia, Fla., a designated disaster recovery center for hurricanes.
Harris said he learned “some very important lessons” while responding
to the 2004 storms. As volunteers from the church provided flood
buckets and other services to hurricane victims, they noticed some of
the people they helped were abusing the process, taking more than they
needed and selling some of the supplies they had received.
“As volunteers pointed out the inequities, God spoke to my heart,”
Harris said. “I told them, ‘If they come back for food 20 times, I don’t
care. It’s not about being equal and fair.’ I realized that if I tried
to police it, I would lose the opportunity to help our community.”
Today, Harris says responders are better prepared than they were two
years ago. “The last time, there was no one in the community saying, ‘Go
to this church to get food or water’ or ‘Go here for cleaning
supplies,’ ” he said. “But now, we’ll be able to get word to those in
the community of where the resources are being distributed.”
Developing a plan
Harris says the best advice he has for other churches is to set up a
coordinated response plan for disaster relief and to take advantage of
the training the conference provides to help congregations develop a
McLeod’s district is identifying the churches that were able to help
the community during the last hurricane season. She’s getting
commitments from them to do outreach again this year. She is also asking
churches in upper middle class areas to collect relief materials for
poorer church communities.
If the weather experts are mistaken and Floridians make it to Nov. 30
without enduring a hurricane, McLeod has a contingency plan.
“We’ll give some of the food to the food bank; then, we’ll cook a
spaghetti dinner and invite the neighborhood to come out and celebrate!”
*Johnson is a Florida-based, freelance television and print
journalist. This story first appeared as a feature of e-Review, the news
service of the Florida Annual Conference.
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.