Churches show hurricane survivors spirit of Christmas

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Churches show hurricane survivors spirit of Christmas

Jan. 3, 2006  News media contact: Tita Parham*  
800-282-8011   Orlando {0422}

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

CAPE CORAL — The mother of one of the six families adopted by Grace United Methodist Church stands by the Christmas tree and a bag of lights and ornaments the church gave to her. The church has been helping the families cope with the effects of Hurricane Wilma. Each received a tree and trimmings. Photo by Linda Comer, Photo #06-293.

They lost almost everything. Many gave up hope. But this Christmas restored their faith. Thousands of hurricane survivors experienced the miracle of Christmas, thanks to the generosity of several United Methodist churches in Florida.

When hurricanes Katrina and Wilma destroyed peoples' homes, Grace United Methodist Church in Cape Coral decided to adopt six families through what members called the Starfish Project. Church members raised $67,000 to give the families a home and pay their rent and utilities for one year.

"They didn't have to be a Methodist or a Christian. It was just whoever God put in our path," said Linda Comer, director of communication for the church.

The idea to help the families began with a story the Rev. Jorge Acevedo, pastor of the church, told the congregation. It's an old proverb about a little boy on a beach who notices starfish dying in the sun. He throws them back into the water, believing his efforts are worthwhile even if he saves only one. The pastor challenged his church to save at least one family devastated by the hurricanes.

Church "shepherds" help the families find doctors, libraries and other resources. They also keep in touch with the families to help determine additional needs. Many of the hurricane survivors began attending Grace church and other area congregations.

During the holiday season, church members decided to give the families a special Christmas.

"We thought the things they'd miss most would be Christmas decorations because they're sentimental," Comer said. "So every member of our staff brought in six ornaments — new, slightly used or handmade."

They donated six live Christmas trees to the families, as well as tree stands and 800 Christmas lights.

Comer says she will never forget the reaction of a Fort Myers hurricane survivor who is a single mother of two teenage boys.

"When she saw the bag, she was torn to tears," Comer said. "She said she hadn't seen her boys get excited since the hurricane until they saw their tree. They laughed for the first time in a month."

VERO BEACH — Volunteers at First United Methodist Church pack food for families affected by Hurricane Wilma as their Christmas gift to them. Photo by Pat Pellington, Photo #06-294.

In South Florida, the giving continued. First United Methodist Church in Vero Beach distributed more than 1,000 boxes of food to hurricane survivors in Okeechobee, Canal Point and Belle Glade. Volunteers provided three meals a day for a family of four for one week. Christmas food baskets included ham, chicken, spaghetti, vegetables and fruit.

"We just touched the surface of the need," said Beth Logullo, director of children's ministries at the church. "We go home and look in our cupboards and say, 'I don't have anything to cook for dinner.' Our cupboards are full, but theirs are empty."

More than 100 volunteers packed boxes and filled a 45-foot trailer with 50,000 food items. After enduring hurricanes Frances and Jeanne, the Vero church felt a duty to respond to this natural disaster. It was the plight of the hungry children that touched them most.

"Christmas is a time to give anyway. But children can't learn or function if their bellies aren't full," Logullo said. "So, now, they can go to school and learn because someone helped them."

Giving to hurricane survivors turned into a gift for members of the two congregations. They believe they're living the true meaning of Christmas.

"It was a pleasure to coordinate and make their Christmases brighter," Comer said. "Little by little, we know they're feeling the love of the Lord."


This article relates to Christmas Outreach.

*Parham is 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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