Methodists take lead to help storm-damaged Pasco



HUDSON – Disaster recovery assistance in the wake of severe summer rains and flooding in Pasco County will follow a case management model established by the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).

Vacant-looking house with blue tarp on roof

Neighborhoods in Elfers still show signs of damage following summer deluges that led to days of flooding. Photos by Susan Green.

Patched and broken pavement in neighborhood with warning road sign

Pasco Rebuilds Together, a coalition of church, civic and government representatives, announced plans Friday to set up immediate and long-term recovery programs following procedures developed over many years of disaster relief by United Methodists. Training for staff and volunteers involved in the effort starts Monday, Oct. 19, at First UMC, New Port Richey. Organized recovery work is expected to begin in January.

UMCOR has provided a grant of $75,000, which will be matched by the Florida Conference with $25,000, plus in-kind materials and services. United Way of Pasco County has kicked in another $22,000, said Pam Garrison, disaster recovery coordinator for the Florida Conference who also chairs the state chapter of Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD).

The grants will be used primarily to fund case management positions, including a construction manager who can evaluate and supervise repairs, secure permits and make sure improvements meet building codes. More volunteers and donations will be needed to help the flood victims, many of whom were living near the Anclote River but either had no flood insurance or were underinsured.

Kelly Miller, a civic leader and Pasco Rebuilds chairperson, said most of the organization members joining hands to help flood victims come from faith-based backgrounds. In addition, Amanda McNichols, aide to state Rep. Amanda Murphy, sits on the board as secretary. The United Way, Rotary Club and other organizations also are part of the effort, along with Pasco County officials and U.S. Congressman Gus Bilirakis’ office.

“All of us coming together, sitting at the table, is a beautiful thing,” Miller said, after reviewing a timeline of the disastrous rainfall and aftermath from July through September. Although Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency during the storms, later applications for federal and state emergency management funds were denied.

“We got nothing,” Miller said. She lives in the hard-hit Elfers community but said her home was not damaged.

Duggan Cooley of Pasco’s United Way organization, which helped screen more than 1,000 calls for assistance, said the group’s strategy is to help people tap into resources and learn from their experience so that future events are less disastrous.

“This is not about doing things for people,” he said. “It’s about working with people.”

More than 45 homes were destroyed during the protracted rain event, and another 300 were damaged, Cooley reported. More than 200 residents have lingering unmet needs.

Jamie Mick, another Pasco Rebuilds member, predicted there will be part-time residents arriving soon to discover damage to their winter homes that has yet to be reported.

House with large trash bins in front for damaged goods
Large trash bins are placed in front of a house to receive materials ruined by flooding in a Pasco County neighborhood that sustained storm damage. This photo and home page photo by Kelly Miller.

Garrison was unable to attend the kickoff meeting Friday but said later that a church-led effort can help disaster victims in many ways that go beyond government assistance.

“Some of these people are teetering on the edge of … a lifestyle where they’re totally dependent” on government or charitable organizations, Garrison said. The United Methodist approach not only identifies and prioritizes post-disaster needs and matches victims with potential resources but also provides financial counseling and help with improving job skills so that people can be better prepared for future events, she said. 

“As a church, we can do things the government can’t. We can help with these things and have a more holistic approach.”

She said she was pleased to see the coalition, which includes participation from the Presbyterian, Catholic, United Church of Christ and Generations Christian Church, take charge of the situation. Similar efforts fizzled in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Debby, she recalled, and lack of a central organizing entity hinders relief efforts.

First UMC, New Port Richey, will serve as the office for Pasco Rebuilds Together. In January, operations to welcome mission teams will set up at the Fasano Regional Hurricane Shelter and continue through April. Garrison said the relief ministry, similar to one set up to address 2007 tornado damage in the Lady Lake area, is considered a short-term project for UMCOR. She anticipates staffing will continue for about a year.

Pasco Rebuilds has an immediate need for a half-dozen volunteers who have construction skills or experience with collecting and organizing data who live near the affected area around New Port Richey, Elfers and Holiday. For information, contact Garrison at pgarrison@flumc.org.  Click here for information about Pasco Rebuilds Together.

-- Susan Green is the Florida Conference managing editor.




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