After Hurricane Irma had her way with the west coast of Florida, the residents of the Childs Park neighborhood in south St. Petersburg found themselves at the back of the line when it came to getting their power restored. They understandably felt left behind, as some were left without power for as long as nine days.
A community effort to aid in their disaster relief—the brainchild of Carla Bristol, a local business owner and community leader—blossomed thanks to Facebook posts. McCabe UMC in St. Pete, whose senior pastor, Rev. Jana Hall-Perkins, just arrived at the 182-member church in July, jumped on the bandwagon gathering volunteers through a text plea. The effort, dubbed “Childs Park, We Got You” fed over 600 people in the neighborhood on Sept. 14.
“We were able to respond on quick notice, as we’ve been trying to strengthen our outreach and represent Christ in the community,” said Hall-Perkins. The seven church volunteers stood out in their yellow and blue shirts bearing the church’s name and pitched in to pack food bags with fruits and vegetables, toiletry bags and provide pizza and baby care items.
“They (the residents) were able to see us get our hands dirty packing and serving,” said Hall-Perkins. “These folks were really struggling without power. They couldn’t store food or have any kind of normalcy,” she said. “We were kind of a moment of light in their darkness.”
In addition to serving a meal and distributing relief bags, volunteers played with the children in the south-side neighborhood and did what they could to ease the situation. Some nearby neighborhoods were restored within four to five days, which added to residents’ frustrations.
Hall-Perkins said that the church did not have an emergency store of items, such as toiletries, already in place, so they went out and purchased them. She said that after her volunteers had the experience of helping at Childs Park, some of them told her they wanted to build on the momentum of having gone out in the mission field.
“We had not been out in the community like this in a long time, and they were excited to be part of this. They were happy to be responding in love, and even now there’s excitement about the fact that we as a congregation could respond so quickly and actually do something like this. We see it as something to build on,” she said.
After their Irma ministry in Childs Park came to a close, members of the church were praised on Facebook by the woman who spearheaded the effort. Bristol wrote of the McCabe church’s hard work and dedication: “Now these angels are the REAL DEAL!!! Love looks just like the efforts made by this group today. Thank you, and I would like to visit and fellowship with you soon.”
--Anne Dukes is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.