Fort Myers church takes help to next level

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Fort Myers church takes help to next level

Sept. 24, 2005    News media contact:  Tita Parham*    
800-282-8011     Orlando {0372}

NOTE: This is one of a series of articles on local church and district-wide Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. See related story, "Churches, members come face to face with survivors," e-Review FUMNS  {0371}.

An e-Review Feature
By Tita Parham

FORT MYERS — Survivors of Hurricane Katrina wait to see a case manager or just take a break at the Life Enrichment Center at First United Methodist Church of Fort Myers. Church members and Red Cross volunteers have been helping survivors of the storm at a Red Cross processing center set up at the church. Photo by Carl Scharfenberg, Photo #05-243.

FORT MYERS — While Red Cross volunteers have been seeing to people's immediate housing and health needs, members of First United Methodist Church of Fort Myers have been "taking it to the next level," according to the Rev. Jim Rosenburg, pastor of the church.

"Being put in a hotel is not good enough," Rosenburg said. "We're trying to get them back on their feet."

The Red Cross processing center began operating at the church's Life Enrichment Center about a week after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. It has helped about 500 families, according to Mary Delhagen, a Red Cross volunteer working at the center. Rosenburg said about 130 families visited the center the first day it was open.

Since then, members have been doing all they can for the families — collecting clothes, giving them a chance to use the showers at the Center, providing meals through the local soup kitchen sponsored by the church and others in town. Marion Sortore, a case manager from the Florida Conference Storm Recovery Center, had been working in Arcadia with survivors of the storms that hit Florida last year. She is now at the church helping families find housing and jobs.

"The biggest task we're facing is networking — finding apartments, finding housing," Rosenburg said. "It's a day-to-day operation. It changes every 24 hours."

Many of the people who have visited the center chose the Fort Myers area because they have friends or family living there. Rosenburg said most were able to leave their communities before the storm hit. "We're not dealing with the mass of people taken to the Superdome."

FORT MYERS — An electrician and his son walk away happy customers after being helped by both the American Red Cross and members of First United Methodist Church of Fort Myers. The church provided space for a Red Cross processing center that is helping families displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Photo by Carl Scharfenberg, Photo #05-244.

What they are dealing with, for the most part, is people who have lost everything. Like the woman Rosenburg met who arrived at the center not knowing if anyone in her family was alive. Family members had gone to a local high school shelter to ride out the storm, but she chose not to go with them. The shelter was later destroyed. After that, she did not see or hear from any of them.

Or the little girl, about 3 or 4 years old, who asked for clothes to replace the ones she no longer had, instead of the doll Rosenburg offered her. " ... So I gave her the doll and the clothes," Rosenburg said. "It was one of the most touching things I've ever done."

Rosenburg said the church is "looking at the spiritual side, as well." The church bought Bibles and gave them to anyone who wanted one. Rosenburg bought rosary beads for a woman who had lost hers, along with everything else of religious significance that she owned.

Delhagen said members of the church have been "wonderful," not only cooking and preparing meals for the families, but also the Red Cross volunteers, and giving up the space they'd usually use for church activities.

"It has been three very hard weeks for this church family," she said. "They are very cool people. I fact, I'm thinking I should come to church here. That's the kind of people they are here."

"Everyone is opening their hearts and lives, giving graciously," Rosenburg said. "All we can do is help one family at a time."

How churches and members can help

* Gather supplies for Florida and other affected statesFor Florida: Migrant workers in South Florida were hard hit by Hurricane Katrina. Florida City United Methodist Church/Florida City Hispanic Mission is collecting rice and beans, non-perishable foodstuffs, diapers, health kits, new men's blue jeans in small and medium sizes, new men's t-shirts (or clean t-shirts in good condition) and baby clothes. Call Diane Gutierrez at 305-247-0911 to arrange for delivery of items. Health kit items can be found at For other states: The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) no longer needs donations of bottled water, but other items are in short supply, including health kits, school kits, new sets of twin sheets, new pillows, new blankets and new air mattresses. Health and school kit items and packaging instructions may be found at Items can be sent to the Florida Conference Disaster Response Depot in Madison (call to make delivery arrangements: 850-869-0882 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 Florida or affected areas in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi should contact the Florida Conference Storm Recovery Center (SRC) at 800-282-8011, extension 149.

* Donate — to UMCOR Advance No. 982523, "Hurricanes 2005 Global." Contributions can be made online at, 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.

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.

The SRC can be reached at 800-282-8011, extension 149.


This article relates to Disaster Response.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.

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