Relief efforts in Clewiston show connection at work

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Relief efforts in Clewiston show connection at work

Nov. 6, 2005  News media contact: Tita Parham*  
800-282-8011   Orlando {0392}

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

VIERA — Residents of Clewiston and nearby communities may be battered after Hurricane Wilma, but they certainly aren't beaten, thanks to the many city, non-profit and church groups working hard to clean up and begin rebuilding.

United Methodists in the South West District of the Florida Conference are a key part of those efforts.

"It doesn't matter whether you're red, brown, yellow, United Methodist, Southern Baptist, Pentecostal or whatever," the Rev. John Hicks said. "Everybody is doing their thing."

Hicks is pastor of First United Methodist Church in Clewiston, which is serving as one of the city's designated distribution centers for hurricane relief supplies.

CLEWISTON — All that's left of this Clewiston home after Hurricane Wilma is a pile of rubble, with barely enough room on which to paint the demolition symbol. Photo by Gricel Hernandez, Photo #05-265.

The storm caused extensive downing of trees, flooding and major storefront damage in Clewiston, which is located in South Florida near Lake Okeechobee and home to many migrant worker families. Several gas station pumps were blown away, and many residential trailers were damaged or destroyed — including the home of the youth minister at First United Methodist Church.

By Nov. 1 nearly 600 homes had been designated uninhabitable.

Before the storm made landfall Oct. 24 Hispanic ministers from First United Methodist Church traveled around the neighborhood in a van helping Hispanic residents find shelter. Another team from the church helped residents secure their homes.

After the storm passed members remobilized. "The first thing we did was check on people to make sure they were okay. We have quite a number of people in trailer parks," Hicks said. "Once we helped people get secure, we were blessed with the donation of a couple of generators, which enabled us to keep the church going. We also took them around and charged people's refrigerators."

Hicks said the church also served "a hot meal to everybody, and even some visitors that came off of the streets. We invited them in and dined with them."

Conference churches have delivered supplies "from all over," according to Hicks. He said a crew from Port Charlotte and Punta Gorda brought chain saws and gas, and two to three shipments a day have been pouring into the center from churches in various parts of the state.

The city of Cape Coral also contributed supplies, and Fernandina Beach sent a half-semi tractor-trailer filled with necessities.

Baby supplies are still in high demand, especially for residents of outlying areas where power will likely remain off until the end of November. Hicks said young families gobbled up a shipment from Cornerstone United Methodist Church in Naples in less than five minutes. Lake Placid United Methodist Church was planning to deliver additional baby items Oct. 31 or Nov. 1. Chain saws also are needed.

A work crew of United Methodist volunteers from Fort Myers helped clean up the front yard of the church's parsonage in order to take some of the load off Hicks' shoulders. Along with tree damage, front entryway columns, side awnings and shingles had been blown away.

"It was a big relief. All week I've been giving all of myself to help everyone get settled, and I was feeling a little unsettled myself. That was a big ministry to me," Hicks said.

At the church there was flooding and a broken window in the sanctuary, roof leaks in the office and major tree damage on the property.

CLEWISTON — Rev. Douglas Pareti (left) brings a load of diapers and supplies from Memorial United Methodist Church in Lake Placid. Photo by the Rev. John Hicks, Photo #05-267. Web photo only.

"One of the greatest things I've realized is that being part of the (United Methodist) connectional system, we are really blessed in a lot of ways with churches responding immediately to needs and to help us be in ministry in the surrounding areas," Hicks said.

Members of the Clewiston church will return the favor, traveling to help other churches damaged by Wilma.

Hicks said the city of Clewiston was prepared for the storm. "Immediately afterwards the city and the Emergency Operations Center were geared up to start clearing roads," he said. "U.S. Sugar took a big hit and could not open, but they sent their employees - about 40 of them - around from house to house to clear debris. Others were cutting trees. The volunteer fire department was putting up tarps on all the city employees' houses so they could be available to serve needs."

Southern Baptists have also been helping out, serving about 12,500 meals per day in the Clewiston area. The Salvation Army has been serving about 1,000.

Hicks helped revitalize the city's ministerial association when he arrived a few years ago so area churches were already working together on various projects, and all of Clewiston's key city officials are Christians, according to Hicks.

Nearly a week after the storm, members of the Clewiston church gathered at Moore Haven United Methodist Church, located about 15 miles north of Clewiston, and heard a message from Romans 8 about how nothing — including hurricanes — can separate people from the love of God.

"We gathered and embraced each other. We shared hurricane stories. We prayed for each other and the community. ... and suddenly it was 12:05 p.m.," Hicks said. "I basically got up and shared that the message had already been shared through the testimony of how God delivered them and how, even in the midst of tragedy, it's just things."

The Clewiston church has remained in constant contact with the Moore Haven church and its pastor, the Rev. Thom Street. Moore Haven members took one of their church's generators to Clewiston after electricity had been restored in Moore Haven. They also provided hot meals, canned food and baby supplies to Clewiston residents, along with flood buckets, health kits and shelter for families who live in manufactured homes. 

"We've just been trying to respond to different needs that people have," Street said. "They (Clewiston) needed a place to serve hot meals one day, and they needed the manpower to serve it."

Street and his church have also been distributing food from the church's food bank, along with extra food people have been donating. "We don't normally carry diapers ... but we were able to get some of those from Cornerstone United Methodist Church," he said. "We also have a thrift shop with mostly clothing. We had some people who were practically naked; we took them to the thrift shop and let them shop for free so they'd be warm."

Moore Haven is home to 1,600 residents and situated in Glades County, a community of 10,000 residents and the poorest in the state of Florida. Its main industries are sugar cane and ranching. "We've got more cows in the county than we've got people," Street said.

Street said his church's sanctuary and fellowship hall had roof and water damage. At the parsonage, trees fell and a new storage shed was reduced to a pile of twisted metal.

Regarding efforts among churches to reach out to each other, Street said, "I think we're really starting to make this horizontal connection in the conference." He said a United Methodist church in nearby Lake Placid has "a lot of expertise to share with everybody."

"They know what kind of needs they'll be facing when we have a storm," he said. "They're so appreciative of the help they got last year, they're ready, willing and able to give back to other churches."

CLEWISTON — Faced with the aftermath of recovery from Hurricane Wilma and the cancellation of door-to-door trick-or-treating due to debris along the roads, First United Methodist Church of Clewiston held a "Truth and Treat" party coordinated by the youth. More 75 children and parents joined in the evening of fellowship, games, room-to-room trick-or-treating and story time. Photo by the Rev. John Hicks, Photo #05-266. Web photo only.
Street's message from Romans 8 the Sunday after the storm wasn't his original sermon. "That was where I was led to preach," he said. "I wanted to remind people that as long as we have faith in Jesus Christ, even Hurricane Wilma can't separate us from the love of God."

Street said his church will have to determine how to connect on a deeper, spiritual level with those area residents they have helped. "We were so overwhelmed with trying to meet the needs, we didn't have time to think about that. We hope that when people received help that they sensed we were doing it out of love," he said.

Hicks said addressing hurricane victims' spiritual needs goes hand-in-hand with delivering supplies. "Very few people have responded negatively to an offer to pray," he said. "I've realized that one of the greatest ministries, even in the midst of all this, is people sharing their stories and needing to have someone listen ... . The caring and the love overcome the needs."

How to help with recovery and cleanup

* Gather supplies, volunteer: Affected areas need a variety of supplies and assistance from work teams. Trucks and truck drivers to deliver supplies are also needed. Because needs change daily, individuals and churches interested in helping should contact the SRC at 800-282-8011, extension 149, or to find out what they can do to help. The center matches individuals/teams with current and emerging needs. Health kits and flood buckets are also needed and can be sent to the Florida Conference Disaster Response Depot in Madison (call to make delivery arrangements: 850-869-0882 or 850-929-4938). Items included in both can be found at

* Give generously: Individuals are encouraged to give to "Florida Storm Recovery" Fund, Conference Special #605, to assist with cleanup and recovery. Checks should include the fund name and number in the memo line. Checks may be given at local United Methodist churches and made payable to the church or mailed to Conference Treasurer, The United Methodist Church, P.O. Box 3767, Lakeland, FL 33802, and made payable to Florida Conference Treasurer. Individuals may also give 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 to
UMCOR at P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087-9068 should be made payable to UMCOR.

For response updates go to


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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