From weddings to gasoline: church meets survivors' needs

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

From weddings to gasoline: church meets survivors' needs

Sept. 24, 2005    News media contact:  Tita Parham*    
800-282-8011     Orlando {0373}

NOTE: This is one of a series of articles on local church and district-wide Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.

An e-Review Feature
By John M. De Marco**

MADISON — Cervina and Eddie Daigle met, fell in love and planned an October wedding in their hometown of Metairie, La. Nearly three weeks ago a force named Katrina came between them, first destroying the church planned for their nuptials and their home, then sending them scrambling to Florida for shelter.

Like many others escaping Hurricane Katrina, they made their way to Madison and found themselves overwhelmed by the hospitality of First United Methodist Church in the North West District.

When the Rev. Lee Monroe FerDon and others from the church learned of the couple's plight, they organized what seemed most fitting: an impromptu wedding.

"They were really distraught," FerDon said. "One of my church ladies brokered a marriage — we all came over to the sanctuary and had a wedding there on the spot on Sept. 2. The clerk of courts, Tim Sanders, is a valued member of the church, and we facilitated getting their wedding license and all that stuff."

The newlyweds stayed in town for about three weeks, attending services at the Madison church each Sunday before heading back to Louisiana. And although their story is perhaps the most interesting, they were just two of many people blessed by the congregation and community since Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast communities of Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Things kicked off at the church shortly after the hurricane struck, when a couple of younger women from the church decided to drive to three motels by the interstate to see if any evacuees were there.

"They were appalled," FerDon said. "There were several evacuees, and most didn't have enough money to eat. Some were trying to eat on barbeque grills outside of the motel rooms."

The women called the church, and members quickly set up two luncheons, inviting all the evacuees. Several other women then decided they needed more than just food and bought laundry baskets filled with a variety of items, like cookies and tissue. "Whatever these ladies thought they might need, they gave to them," FerDon said.

Among the evacuees were children. FerDon said several young mothers from the congregation went through their children's toy boxes and asked them, "Do you want this? What about this?" The result was a lot of toys given to children in need.

About 27 evacuees attended each luncheon, one on Friday and another Saturday. "We had a great time of fellowship and fun. They all seemed to be very appreciative, of course," FerDon said. "All the families at the motels were served by this church in one way or the other."

One family is still in town, staying in a vacant house donated by a nearby college. Church members provided furniture and appliances.

MADISON — Volunteers unload supplies for victims of Hurricane Katrina at the Florida Conference Disaster Response Depot in Madison. Photo courtesy of Margaret Throgmorton, Photo #05-245. Web photo only.

Like many conference churches, First United Methodist Church of Madison has been gathering supplies for health kits to be sent to the Gulf Coast, a weekly offering for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), and a weekly offering for the Florida Conference Disaster Response Depot in Madison, which opened in 2004 just before Hurricane Charley struck Southwest and Central Florida. The first depot offering totaled $800, FerDon said.

Several church members assisted the evacuees with their motel bills, with entire families taking a full day of expenses at a time. FerDon said most of the Gulf Coast residents were not prepared to evacuate.

Other families have helped out in their own unique ways. The Johnson family, longtime members of the church and owners of J&J Enterprises, have been rushing oil and gasoline from their tank farm and service stations to the Gulf Coast with help from several volunteer drivers. The church's Davis family owns several water tank trucks and has been taking purified water to the Gulf Coast so residents can get water quickly.

"Several of the people in the church who have the means to do so are really helping in very significant ways," the pastor said. Many other church members have been volunteering time at the depot, including a retired pastor, the Rev. Charlie Peck.

Other key point persons in the relief efforts have included church member Doug Brown, the vice president of North Florida Community College, and Madison resident Linda Gaston, a member of Cherry Lake United Methodist Church and a key figure in a newly formed cluster for churches in that district. She also helps run the Madison depot.

"We're trying to fill up the depot, so we can be ready at any time to ship out supplies," Gaston said. "We have a great group of volunteers. We've been getting great response from everybody all around, bringing in supplies."

Gaston added, "We here in Madison know that if that thing had turned to the right just a little bit, it would have been us looking for someone to take care of us."

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.
**De Marco is a commissioned minister of the Florida Conference and a freelance writer, speaker and consultant.

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