In the days after Hurricane Irma made landfall, the small communities across rural Hardee County found themselves dealing with everything from downed oak trees, lost power and rising creeks and rivers.
|FUMC Wauchula stepped up to provide hot meals to hundreds of first responders, linemen and volunteers involved in relief efforts for Hurricane Irma. Nearly 30 church volunteers participated.|
Rev. Danielle Upton, the pastor at First United Methodist Church of Wauchula, knew the needs were many, but ultimately decided her congregation should stick to what it does best.
“Honestly, feeding people is kind of the heart of our church,” she said. “It’s what we’re good at.”
Working with local nonprofit SendMeMissions, which was assessing needs across the area following the hurricane, FUMC Wauchula committed to preparing meals for local families in need: first responders still working in the field, power linemen and volunteers over the course of three days about a week after the storm hit. Nearly 30 church members teamed up in the fellowship hall kitchen to cook hamburgers and beans the first night, chicken and rice the next night and sloppy Joes the night after that. In all, they prepared roughly 200 meals each night.
“It was a lot of work,” said Upton, who has served at FUMC Wauchula for eight years. “Honestly, I was a little nervous, but it went more smoothly than I ever could have prayed it would.”
Though not a large or wealthy congregation, FUMC Wauchula was determined to help its neighbors recover. Most of its members saw little damage of their own and were fueled by deep gratitude to lend a hand to others.
Young and old alike chipped in to make it work, Upton said.
“We had parents come straight from work. They gave up their evenings after working all day,” she said. “We were (also) able to provide child care. We found a couple of teenagers who needed community service hours, and they watched the kids while we cooked.”
One church member’s parents, who live in North Florida and wanted to help financially, even purchased the takeout containers and plastic utensils needed to deliver the food to the community.
“We were really thankful for that,” Upton said.
In addition to feeding folks, the church members also came to the aid of the congregation’s two homeowners who saw damage from the hurricane. Taking care of each other is simply the way FUMC Wauchula operates, Upton said.
“I think it’s what we’re called to do, and that’s how our people feel too,” she said. “People were tired by the end of the week, but our focus was hurricane relief. We kind of all had that mindset.”
--Kari C. Barlow is a freelance journalist based in Pensacola.