Community's poor may face greatest struggles after two storms (Oct. 6, 2004)

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Community's poor may face greatest struggles after two storms

Oct. 6, 2004    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140     Orlando  {0177}

An e-Review Feature
By Michael Wacht*
OKEECHOBEE — Feeding Okeechobee's poor was a challenge before hurricanes Frances and Jeanne passed through the community, according to Eloise Brown, a member of First United Methodist Church, here. Now, she's wondering how this service will continue.

One of the community's two food pantries had shut down before the hurricanes hit, and the second, which was housed in a Presbyterian church, lost its roof during one of the storms.

OKEECHOBEE — Eloise Brown and other members of First United Methodist Church here prepare bags of food that will be taken out into the community and given to people trying to recover from Hurricane Jeanne. The area's food pantries are not operating-one closed and the other lost its roof during the storm. Photo by Michael Wacht, Photo #04-0100.

Feeding people is a top concern in the area because many residents were still without electricity Oct. 4, a week after Jeanne blew through. "About 200 people are still in shelters throughout the county," Brown said. "A lot of people are staying in homes that are severely damaged or condemned…and will stay there until they're forced to leave."

Frances and Jeanne made landfall north of Okeechobee, but the area was under a hurricane warning and sustained hurricane force winds during both storms.
Damage to homes, both mobile homes and block and wood-frame houses, is widespread in the community, which sits on the north shores of Lake Okeechobee, Florida's largest lake. Brown said more than 170 homes were destroyed and another 430 were damaged, some severely.
Church members fared about as well as the community, according to Cheri Watford, a church member who helped coordinate Care Team calls to church members following the storm. "I contacted probably 80 of our members who stay here full time," she said. "At least 45 had some damage. Out of 175 members [contacted by volunteers], at least half had a lot of damage, and I know of four who have lost Frances and Jeanne."
The church has responded to the needs by distributing food, water, cleaning supplies and special needs items like diapers and tools to families.

OKEECHOBEE — As with hurricanes Charley and Frances, mobile homes and other less sturdy housing in the area received the brunt of damage during Hurricane Jeanne. More than 600 homes were either destroyed or damaged. Photo by Michael Wacht, Photo #04-0101.

"After Frances, we walked through neighborhoods and took food out to people...and helped distribute food brought in by the Salvation Army," Brown said.
The Rev. Jim Dawson, the church's youth and assistant pastor, said much of what the church has distributed has come through the connection. "Downers Grove United Methodist Church in Illinois brought down a truckload of food and cleaning supplies and wrote us a $1,500 check to purchase more stuff," Dawson said, adding the church received a shipment of food from Naples area churches.
"We've also been working with FEMA and Okeechobee Senior Services to distribute food and MREs [Meals Ready to Eat]," he said.
While the church is meeting immediate needs around the community, leaders are also discussing long-term response with other church and community leaders.


Florida Conference United Methodists are encouraged to send contributions to "Florida Storm Recovery Fund" Conference Special #605 to their local church. Church offerings should be sent to the Florida Conference Treasurer, The United Methodist Church, P.O. Box 3767, Lakeland, FL 33802.

Groups interested in forming a work team to assist with hurricane relief and recovery efforts should contact the Florida Storm Recovery Center at 1-800-282-8011, extension 149. The Florida Conference Storm Recovery Team can be contacted by e-mail at

Donations for relief may also be made to UMCOR Advance #982410, "Hurricanes 2004," and dropped into church offering plates or mailed to UMCOR, 475 Riverside Dr., Room 330, New York, NY 10115. People donating by credit card can call 800-554-8583.

For conference news and storm updates go to

This article relates to Florida Conference Disaster Response.

*Wacht is director of Florida United Methodist Communications and managing editor
of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.

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