Tampa nonprofit helps churches, groups meet hurricane needs (Dec. 10, 2004)

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Tampa nonprofit helps churches, groups meet hurricane needs

Dec. 10, 2004    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
mwacht@flumc.org     Orlando  {0206}

An e-Review Feature
By Jenna De Marco**

TAMPA  — Donations from the nonprofit organization Somebody Cares Tampa Bay (SCTB) have helped several United Methodist congregations and ministries in their hurricane recovery efforts this fall.
SCTB's mission is to serve and help meet needs in the Tampa Bay are. In that spirit the group gave individual churches and ministries more than $250,000 in cash and in-kind donations after four hurricanes hit the state this summer.
Clyde Stutts, SCTB's disaster relief coordinator and pastoral liaison, said the assistance was distributed through an application process. He added his relationship with Jim Wilson, who works in the Florida Conference's Florida Storm Recovery Center (FSRC), helped facilitate the process. Stutts said Wilson was able to verify the legitimacy of a number of needs.
"We had the digital forms for the relief requests," Stutts said. "Once the second or third hurricane came through and this thing got nasty, we started to coordinate more through Jim as the clearinghouse."
Stutts said SCTB's funding comes directly from Operation Blessing, "which is basically the 700 Club."
"They developed disaster relief and we are the regional hub for them," Stutts said.
SCTB also helped other denominations-Baptist, Presbyterian, Catholic, Church of God, Assembly of God, independent and Hispanic missions-according to Stutts.
With four hurricanes spread out geographically, Stutts said he had a big job driving around the state to investigate damage and verify needs.
"I have to make sure that the ministries that we are giving to are doing what they are supposed to be doing," Stutts said.
One of those ministries was First United Methodist of Okeechobee, led by the Rev. Bruce Simpson. Simpson's church was affected by both hurricanes Frances and Jeanne.
The church received $10,000 from SCTB, which Simpson decided to divide into four parts. The first $2,500 check was written to a local Winn-Dixie grocery store, which partnered with the church to create dry food bags for many in need of groceries in the area's African-American community. Winn-Dixie distributed the food directly from the store, Simpson said.
Next, a Head Start group assisting area migrant workers received $2,500 for disbursement of food to about 100 families, according to Simpson.
"Then there was a vicinity of Okeechobee that was hit harder than others-Taylor Creek," Simpson said.
The church gave another $2,500 to Taylor Creek Baptist Church for food distribution to the elderly population living in that area.
Finally, the remaining $2,500 was spent maintaining a Thanksgiving tradition in Okeechobee.
"Over the years, there's been a meal prepared on Thanksgiving by an interfaith group, and many of the parishioners assist," Simpson said.
Simpson knew the group would have trouble affording the food expense this year, so he decided to spend the rest of the money on purchasing all of the groceries for the event. On Thanksgiving, 800 people were fed a meal, with some meals being delivered into the community.
"I was just a vessel," Simpson said. "When [the money] came, my job was to make sure it got out in the area."
The Rev. Dr. V. Scott Harris of Pine Island United Methodist Church in Bokeelia said his church spent its $10,000 from SCTB on housing needs of all types.
"We had some folks who were displaced and not eligible for FEMA funds or weren't going to qualify for very much, and we were able to use those funds to find housing for them," Harris said. "Our church here on the island was, from the very beginning, the place where people would call for tarping and repairs."
Harris said it was his secretary, Connie Petito, who learned about the assistance from SCTB. After Stutts visited with her, he determined the church had eligible needs for the money. Bokeelia was directly in the eye of Hurricane Charley, according to Harris, and suffered considerable wind damage.
Harris said groups like SCTB have been instrumental in the storm relief and recovery.
"We're all in it together," Harris said. "The faith community here on Pine Island...has been the major catalyst for recovery here on the island."
Other United Methodist churches have also received assistance from SCTB, including Port Charlotte United Methodist Church, First United Methodist Church in Lakeland, East Point United Methodist Church, Roseland United Methodist Church, Thonotosassa United Methodist Church, First United Methodist Church of Avon Park, First United Methodist Church of Frostproof, First United Methodist Church of Lake Wales, and St. Luke's and Gulf Breeze United Methodist churches in Pensacola.

The Florida Conference received three grants for a total of $70,000 for distribution throughout the state, and CROS (Christians Reaching Out to Society) Ministries in West Palm Beach, Halifax Urban Ministries in Volusia County and Mission Volunteers Partners in north Florida also received assistance.


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 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 StormRecovery@flumc.org.

Donations for recovery 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 storm recovery news and updates go to http://www.flumc.org/hurricane_watch/index.htm.

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.
**De Marco is a freelance writer based in Viera, Fla.

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