Tampa church reaches out to hurricane survivors, adopts family

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Tampa church reaches out to hurricane survivors, adopts family

Sept. 7, 2005    News media contact:  Tita Parham*    
tparham@flumc.org     Orlando {0358}

NOTE:  Churches across the conference are responding to the needs of hurricane survivors. This is one of a series of articles on local church and district-wide relief efforts that will be included in e-Review coverage of the conference's hurricane response.

An e-Review Feature
By Nancy E. Johnson**

TAMPA — Hundreds of miles from where Katrina unleashed her fury, generosity of spirit runs as deep as the Louisiana floodwaters. Mary Danielson pulled up to Wellspring United Methodist Church in Tampa on Sunday and unloaded bags of clothing and books.

"I thought somebody could get some use out of them ... all I could think was that this could have been us, very easily," Danielson said.

Like United Methodists across the state, members of Wellspring United Methodist Church watched the images of devastation on television and knew they had to act. "You feel very helpless," said the Rev. Craig Hammond, pastor of the church. "As people of faith, we have to let go of barriers that separate us and work together."

The congregation got busy.

A few members of the women's group came up with an idea for a relief effort — holding a community-wide cookout at the church Sept. 4 and asking people to bring supplies for hurricane survivors. Church members handed out 800 fliers designed by the youth group to advertise the event and sent mass e-mails. That Sunday the men's ministry fired up the grill.

The donated supplies the church collected — water, baby formula, flashlights, batteries, diapers and many other items — went to the American Red Cross and will be distributed to hurricane victims.

"You can't sit and watch total devastation and not want to do something," said Bill Turner, a volunteer.

The church's members will never meet most of the victims they helped, but they can see the fruit of their efforts at work in the lives of one family. "You'll never know what a difference that church has made for us," Sammie Layosa said.

Fifteen members of the Layosa family are staying with relatives in Tampa. Sammie Layosa lives in New Orleans. Her brother and his family live in Biloxi. They all managed to escape and made the 26-hour journey to Tampa with three children, two dogs, a cat and a hamster. The church adopted them.

"We got them clothing and Wal-Mart gift cards for food," said Dionne Hammond, the church's lay leader. "We wanted to help specific families so we could have a face and a name."

Layosa evacuated quickly, taking only her most prized possessions. "I grabbed my family photos off the wall and my father's Bible," she said. "Family and memories are everything to me; nothing else matters."

Hurricanes never have good timing. Layosa was scheduled to have major surgery the week after Katrina hit. Her mother suffers from congestive heart failure and needed medical attention. The church connected the family with Tampa doctors.

Layosa can't thank the church and the community enough. She says it's been overwhelming for her.

"I feel guilty accepting gifts bestowed on us. There are so many who are less fortunate," she said.

Hammond said the church is committed to helping as many hurricane victims as it can and plans to partner with United Methodist Volunteers in Mission to send a team to the Gulf Coast in a couple of months.

"This is a desperate situation," Hammond said. "But I feel if everyone did something, it would be taken care of."

How churches and members can help

* Donate: to UMCOR Advance No. 982523, "Hurricanes 2005 Global." Contributions can be made online at http://www.methodistrelief.org, at local churches or by phone at 800-554-8583. Checks should include the Advance number and name on the memo line. Checks given at local churches should be made payable to the local church. Checks mailed directly to UMCOR at P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087-9068 should be made payable to UMCOR. Checks to support recovery in a specific region should reflect that.

* Gather supplies: The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) has issued an emergency appeal for Health Kits, Flood Buckets, bottled water and blankets. Health Kit and Flood Bucket items and packaging instructions may be found at http://gbgm-umc.org/umcor/kits.cfm. (There is a more urgent need for Health Kits.) Items can be sent to the Florida Conference Disaster Response Depot in Madison (call to make delivery arrangements: 850-869-0882 (cell) or 850-929-4938) or UMCOR's Sager Brown Depot, P.O. Box 850, 131 Sager Brown Road, Baldwin, LA 70514-0850 (please also provide $1.00 per kit to cover distribution costs and send it to Sager Brown UMCOR Advance #982730, "Contain Your Joy").

* Organize volunteer teams: Teams wanting to work in affected areas should contact the Florida Conference Storm Recovery Center (SRC) at 800-282-8011, extension 149, which is working with M.E.R.C.I. (United Methodist Disaster Response Center of North Carolina) to coordinate efforts.

* Search out housing: Churches that would like to become shelters should contact their local chapter of the American Red Cross. Individuals who know of empty buildings in Florida that can be used to house displaced families should call the SRC.

Individuals looking for family members or friends who live in affected areas should call the Salvation Army at 847-709-6700 or the American Red Cross at 800-435-7669.

A camera-ready flier "Hurricane Katrina: How to Help" is available for download from the conference Web site at http://www.flumc.org. It may be distributed with bulletins during worship services or at other church gatherings. The SRC can be reached at 800-282-8011, extension 149.


This article relates to Disaster Response.

*Parham managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Nancy E. Johnson is a Florida-based, freelance television and print journalist.

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