Churches make Christmas brighter for hurricane victims

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Churches make Christmas brighter for hurricane victims

Jan. 4, 2005    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140     Orlando  {0217}

An e-Review Feature
By Jenna De Marco**

Several Florida Conference churches made Christmas a little merrier for their communities' children who were affected by the 2004 hurricanes.

SEVILLE — Trinity United Methodist Church's fellowship hall was filled with bicycles before Christmas. The bikes were provided by Covenant United Methodist Church in Port Orange and given by Trinity to children in Seville affected by last summer's hurricanes. Photo courtesy of Trinity United Methodist Church, Photo #05-0128.
According to the Rev. Cathy Felber, Trinity United Methodist Church in Seville received unexpected generosity from Covenant United Methodist Church in Port Orange that made it possible to give a new gift and new bicycle to about 35 children.

"Covenant had heard that we had had quite a bit a damage during Hurricane Frances and Jeanne," Felber said. "As a result, they wanted to make us their mission project for Christmas, as well as continue to make us a local mission."
The children who received the gifts are members or siblings of members in the church's Kids Club.
"(Covenant members) kept on telling me, "We've been very blessed," Felber said of Covenant's kindness.
Covenant members drove the gifts to Seville, and the children's parents picked them up and placed them under their Christmas trees, Felber said.
"Some of these parents needed extra kudos (with their kids)," Felber said.
Felber said Kids Club "represents the community-at-large here in Seville more than our church does."
Since hurricanes Frances and Jeanne hit last summer, Felber's church has distributed monthly emergency food through its Five Loaves Food Ministry. In December, Felber said about 30 families received 100 pounds of food each. Felber's church also assisted a few local families in need, including one family that lost its home to fire.
"So we wound up this Christmas season not only ministered to and through, but also able to give more to other families," Felber said.
Flagler Beach United Methodist Church also helped farm workers in the Seville and Pierson area. Church member Gayle Goodman organized the effort to give a special gift and new pair of shoes to the children of 50 families.
"We ended up buying close to 200 pairs of shoes," Goodman said.
Each child also received a new outfit and a toy, thanks to the generosity of church members who took stars from a tree to provide for the children. The stars listed the child's age, clothing size, shoe size and "special" request.
To raise extra money for shoes, Goodman spearheads a "penny collection" for children's shoes a few times throughout the year. The children of church members usually donate their pennies for the fund-raiser. Additionally, the church provided $600 for the shoes.
"We try to do something every year, and it's a way of giving of yourself," Goodman said.

TAMPA — Vern Dykema (center) and other members of Hyde Park United Methodist Church here unload toys given by the church to children and teens at Good Samaritan Mission in Tampa, which works with migrant worker families. More than 500 toys were collected. Photo by Diane Dykema, Photo #05-0129.
Diane Dykema, along with other members of Hyde Park United Methodist Church in Tampa, also chose to make Christmas better for migrant families by providing a Christmas party and gifts. She and her husband Vern are the church's liaisons to Good Samaritan Mission in Tampa for migrant worker families. They have worked with the mission for eight years.
"Every year we make little angels for a tree and the congregation buys the gifts," Dykema said. "This year I think we collected over 500 toys."
Dykema said the focus has usually been on gifts for young children, but this year the teenagers also received some special treatment at Good Samaritan Mission's youth center, which the church also recently helped renovate. Paige Zeff, daughter of the Rev. Dr. Thomas Farmer Jr., pastor of Saint Paul United Methodist Church in Largo, is the youth director for Good Samaritan Mission, which is located about 35 miles from the Hyde Park church.
"We bought them two regulation soccer goals with nets, and then we bought them four large denim bean bags for the center," Dykema said. "And then we gave each teen a $75 gift certificate ... just for themselves."
Dykema said hurricanes Charley, Ivan and Jeanne affected her part of the state, and the migrant families were "really needy this year" as a result of damaged crops and homes. The teenagers received their gifts at a party.
"They are the most loving, humble teens I have ever met," Dykema said. "These kids are just so grateful and so sweet."

WAHNETA — Children of migrant workers affected by the 2004 hurricanes experience the fun of twirling a hula hoop at a Christmas party given for them by United Methodist Hispanic Mission here. Photo by Armando Rodriguez, Photo #05-0130.

Among the other grateful people on the West Coast are the migrant families touched by the United Methodist Hispanic Mission in Wahneta. The Rev. Hermes Hernandez held a Christmas party for about 100 people, 80 of them children, Dec. 11. He said he knows the children and families through the church's summer feeding program, in which children receive a meal per day during their break from school. Hernandez said he also advertised the party with fliers to the community. Hernandez said money received from his district and staff at the Florida Conference Center in Lakeland helped pay for the party.
The party included a meal for all who attended, as well as singing with the kids and storytelling time. Each child also received one gift, Hernandez said.
In nearby DeSoto County, Trinity United Methodist Church in Arcadia found several ways to help the children in its community, according to the Rev. David Harris, pastor of the church. Arcadia suffered a lot of damage from Hurricane Charley, and Trinity already had its own storm recovery center in place long before Christmas. Since October, the recovery center staff members have been calling every household in DeSoto County to find out if they need additional help in recovering after the storm.

Using the information from these disaster assessments, staff determined where Christmas toys and gifts should be distributed. Among the items collected: two hundred gift cards, each valued at $50 and donated by a radio station; more than 400 Christmas shoeboxes filled with goodies, collected from several churches in the conference; more than 400 stocking stuffer bags filled with a variety of items for children; and more than 1,000 new toys donated by Toys for Tots and other churches.

Debi Jensen, the spiritual director for the Single Adult Fellowship Experience (SAFE) at Grace United Methodist Church in Cape Coral, along with members of SAFE, ministered to residential farm workers by throwing a Christmas party in Pine Island. The Christian Chamber of Southwest Florida helped provide toys, and Pine Island United Methodist Church allowed the group to use its facility for the party. Jensen said an organization called Beacon of Hope Long Term Recovery Center assisted with obtaining names of the family members in attendance.
"It was really this tremendous collaborative effort-some Christian and some not," Jensen said.
The families helped were drawn from a mobile home community in Pine Island that housed primarily Hispanic and Haitian farm workers who specialize in crops such as mangos, oranges and avocados. Jensen said Hurricane Charley decimated the groves they work and their homes. Many of the workers have been in the United States for 10 or more years, but are still illegal aliens. As a result, they did not qualify for FEMA assistance.
"By the time we got done, it wound up being 60 families and 100 children," Jensen said. "We fed them dinner, which was roast pork and black beans and rice-traditional holiday foods for these families."
Each child received two gift-wrapped toys, collected by the Christian Chamber with help from Voss Automotive in Dayton, Ohio, Jensen said. Workers from Voss personally drove a delivery truck full of toys to Florida and stayed to help organize them.
Additionally, Santa Claus made an appearance at the Dec. 11 party.
"We gave away five pre-lit, decorated trees, and we gave away 80 food bags of rice and beans," Jensen said. "Each family left the party with a bag of staples."
Jensen praised her SAFE group members for their efforts in shopping and cooking for three days to prepare for the party. She added that the reaction of the families was wonderful.
"Most of them were moved to the point of tears by what was going on, and the children were so grateful," Jensen said.


This article relates to Outreach.

*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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