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Churches continue hurricane recovery work in Florida

 


Churches continue hurricane recovery work in Florida

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A Web-only photo courtesy of the Lee County Sheriff's Office

Hurricane Charley demolished parts of the Pink Citrus mobile home park near Bokeelia, Fla.
June 8, 2005

By John Gordon*

BOKEELIA, Fla. (UMNS)—Nine months after Hurricane Charley ripped across Pine Island, Fla., residents are finding more than their homes need repairs.

"We're beginning to see, I think, some post-traumatic stress," said the Rev. Scott Harris, a United Methodist pastor and one of the founders of a recovery agency called Beacon of HOPE.

"People are beginning to relive some of the things they went through," said Harris. "There was a recent storm that crossed over … into the gulf, and there was panic welling up in the throats of a number of people as they began to once again relive Charley."

Harris, who served five years as pastor of Pine Island United Methodist Church in Bokeelia, joined with other churches on the island to form Beacon of HOPE (Helping Our People Everyday), an ecumenical ministry.

Besides conventional assistance, such as housing repairs, the agency offers counseling to the victims of Charley.

"It was just such an awful experience being in the hallway and everything's just tumbling in down on you," said Kate Stiger, a church member whose home was heavily damaged by the hurricane. "It's just really scary."

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by John Gordon

The Rev. Scott Harris is a founder of Beacon of HOPE, which helps hurricane victims.
The Category 4 hurricane was packing 145-mile-an-hour winds when the eye passed directly over the island, according to the Lee County Sheriff's Office. The island has more than 9,000 permanent residents, most of them 55 or older. Hundreds more make the island their winter home.

"We'll definitely never stay here again during a hurricane," Stiger said. "It was too frightening."

Some homes have still not been repaired because of a shortage of contractors and disputes with insurance companies over property damage. This year's hurricane season began June 1, and some forecasters believe more powerful hurricanes threaten the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico areas.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief is paying the salaries of half a dozen case supervisors to coordinate relief efforts throughout Florida.

"People think that because the hurricane was nine months ago that we're recovered, and we're not even close," said Debi Jensen, Florida Annual (regional) Conference case management supervisor for Lee and Charlotte Counties.

Jensen said several thousand homes in the two counties still need repairs. She said some residents are living in temporary housing that would not survive a major storm.

"A good tropical storm, a heavy rainy season, will destroy what's left of those homes, so people are nervous," she said. "Tensions are beginning to rise."

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by John Gordon

Gerard Cicoria (center) checks on the progress of Roberta and Harold Futch, who lost most of their belongings in Hurricane Charley.
Some residents are taking the new hurricane season in stride. Roberta Futch, whose family lost most of its belongings when Charley hit, said repairs to her home will take another month or two to complete.

"We've been through so many; just take what you get," she said.

Futch, a member of Pine Island United Methodist Church, praised the work of Beacon of HOPE volunteers who have helped her with repairs. She especially thanks Gerard Cicoria, who has taken months away from his business to do volunteer work repairing more than 450 homes.

"I'm healthy, I've had a successful business, I never had a problem paying bills," Cicoria said. "And it's time to give back."

A special mission for the Beacon of HOPE volunteers has been helping residents of the Pink Citrus mobile home park, where dozens of farm workers live. Many homes still need repair at Pink Citrus.

Volunteers have been vital to the success of Beacon of Hope, said Gary Edwards, a Pine Island United Methodist Church member who coordinated repair crews.

"They just came from all walks of life, literally," he said.

Beacon of HOPE's mission has evolved from putting tarps on homes to doing repairs and counseling, and the agency is working to make sure the area is better prepared next time a major storm hits. One goal is to help develop an emergency preparedness plan.

Still, some residents have had enough. As many as 100 families left the church—and the island—after Charley.

But Harris said church members who stayed behind to help others are having a lasting impact on the island community.

"They didn't go with a Bible in their hands; they just went with hammers," he said. "But in that ministry of work was a witness that has touched lives."

Donations for the United Methodist Church's response to the hurricanes should be earmarked for UMCOR Advance #982410, "Hurricanes 2004," and placed in church offering plates or mailed directly to UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087-9068. Credit-card donations can be made by calling (800) 554-8583.

*Gordon is a freelance producer and writer in Marshall, Texas.

News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5458 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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