Helping others relieves personal stress (Oct. 8, 2004)

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Helping others relieves personal stress

Oct. 8, 2004    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140     Orlando  {0178}

n  Church staff, volunteers mobilize to serve community after storms

An e-Review Commentary
By Linda Becker**

MELBOURNE — After it was all over, a memo went out. Among other questions, Suntree United Methodist Church staff were asked, "Do you think helping in the aftermath of the hurricanes assisted people in relieving personal stress?" Here is Suntree's story, a testament to the power of reaching out to others and "living" the church's vision.

At a time when whole communities came to a standstill-with no electric, no gas, no phones and unsafe roads-staff and volunteers gathered at the church to assess the situation.

"We didn't lose power at the church so we were able to help take care of others," said the Rev. Terri Hill, co-senior pastor of the church. "Some folks showed up to help even before they had a chance to evaluate their own needs."

MELBOURNE — Suntree United Methodist Church staff members Sam Dever and Kathy Froiseth update the church's marquee to let residents know help is there for them. Photo by Linda Becker, Photo #04-0102.

The first day after Hurricane Frances blew through town, volunteers stood at the end of the church's driveway with signs that advertised free ice. "We learned that our ice machine puts out 75 bags of ice in a 24-hour period," Hill said. "We handed out as much ice as we could."

The next day, signs read, "Free Lunch" and "Free Dinner," bringing between 150 to 200 people into the church's air-conditioned dining room for nourishment and a break from the stresses caused by the hurricane. Free lunch and dinners were served the following day, as well.

Because of the signs a store manager from beachside Starbucks Coffee stopped in. Their building had lost power during the hurricane, and when the manager saw that the church was giving away free food, she donated their gourmet desserts. Dinner was fabulous!

"In addition to providing immediate assistance to our community, we were on the phones calling as many church members as we possibly could," Hill said. The first question they asked was, "Are you okay?" Once that was determined, people were then asked, "Do you need any help?"

For the next few weeks the church organized work crews to nail tarps onto roofs, cut down fallen trees and assist people who called the church. Clean-up teams pulled up carpet, emptied attics and picked up yard debris. With school out, many youth got involved.

"We had so many people helping," said Guy Hoagland, the church's lay ministry coordinator. 

Although sometimes logistics got in the way, every effort was made to respond as quickly as possible to match need with willing, helping hands.

And then came Jeanne.

This time, church staff left Friday afternoon, the day before the Hurricane made landfall, knowing what Monday morning would bring. Free Ice. Free hot lunches. Free hot dinners. Phone calls. And clean up.

Experience with one hurricane gave us knowledge on how to be more effective with our efforts. In addition to signs and word-of-mouth advertising, a public service announcement about the free food and ice was faxed to radio stations.

And the relief effort grew. Donations came in.  Ice chests were transported into hard-hit areas and volunteers went door-to-door with bags of ice. The church vans were used to deliver 150 to 200 meals at a time to communities who were still without power. We even helped find a lost dog.

And still, the relief effort grew. More donations came in and tarps, nails and tarpaper were passed around to teams working on people's roofs. Canned goods, cleaning supplies and water were received-gifts from other United Methodist congregations.
While the inconvenience of "no power" reached many of us, the stress of losing a roof, being without food or living with uncertainty stunned hundreds upon hundreds of people who stayed to weather the storm. It seemed as though they needed a catalyst to help bring motion back into their lives.

People who came to church-to serve and to be served-got just that. Warmth, cheerful hearts, and laughter abated fear. One person's action ignited another person into action, and pretty soon we were becoming a community of faith living out God's vision.
Cheerful Christians are sometimes hard to take. I don't want to make it sound as though we lost sight of the devastation, nor made light of the situation because we laughed. All we had to do was go outside-to downed power lines, spoiled food in our refrigerators and gas tanks on empty, to know how fortunate we were that we could serve.

Yet, we chose to create our own environment within the confines of the disaster. Networking with other churches was a bonus. We relied on the fact that they were there, which provided us with a sense of stability, normalcy and in some cases, supplies. We reached out to help other churches in areas harder hit than Melbourne and did what we could.

Do I think that helping people in the aftermath of a hurricane helps relieve personal stress? I think you know my answer is, "Yes." It puts us in a proactive, action mode of being. It allows us to reclaim control over the situation. And, it gives us hope-hope in one another.

A woman who regularly drove past our driveway came to service last Sunday because she was impressed with one of our young adults holding a "Free Ice" sign. Another lady in our neighborhood, who does not attend service here, heard our radio announcement offering free food, ice, even a hot shower. She came in with a $100 donation.

We've received thank-you notes too: "With sincere appreciation... the young men who tarped my roof;" and, "Bless you all...and especially the 'hands on' volunteers...we are indeed very grateful for the assistance." Many included donations

My favorite card had a beaver on the cover-sitting down, looking at a long list of things to do. The list read:
Suntree United Methodist Church
Get up, do nice things.
Get up, do nice things.
Get up, do nice things.
Inside the beaver is pictured dancing, with the list draped over its head, and the message reads, "You're so predictable."

Now, that's cool.


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.
**Becker is communications director for Suntree United Methodist Church.

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