Large numbers of homes and businesses have been abandoned. Many people we encountered there told us that they feel as if they have been forgotten. The saddest part was seeing people living at the poverty level in homes needing extensive repair. We were able to "bring good news" to two such families.
At our first work site, we met Gail and Andrew. They are a sweet couple in their 60s who bought their modest "dream" home four years ago. They live there with their daughter, Kaitlin, who is 23.
They stayed in their home as Hurricane Michael slammed into the panhandle. They lost their roof and many of the possessions in their home because of the rain that poured inside. FEMA replaced the roof boards and shingles, but they have not been able to afford to put up a new ceiling or insulation. They have electricity, but their central air conditioning has not yet been restored. On their property, which is over an acre, several outer buildings were destroyed, including Andrew's auto workshop, which was his source of income.
Hurricane Michael damaged and destroyed thousands of homes in October 2018. -Photo courtesy Alabama-West Florida Conference
Our hardworking team worked at Gail and Andrew's house for 2 1/2 days with a heat index of 105 degrees. We were able to remove nails from the inside roof boards so that insulation can now be installed in their home. We dismantled what remained of Andrew's workshop. We also cleared most of the property from overgrown weeds, grass and fallen trees.At our second work site, we met 79-year-old Brenda, a widow who went through the storm at her home with a friend. She has been trying to take care of her property by herself and often works four hours a day in her yard. She has almost an acre of land, which was overgrown and covered with debris. We were able to restore her fence, so that her seven dogs can play outside again. We removed a damaged lean-to from the garage, removed debris, mowed, trimmed, edged, and weeded.
At both homes, we were greeted with unconditional love and kindness. Gail and Andrew stocked their refrigerator with water bottles for our team. We were able to pray with the homeowners, and our students were blessed to have many conversations with them.
At Surfside Christian Center, which was our home for the week, another team was able to help construct an additional bathroom under the leadership of Ray Giaccone. The property managers were so appreciative of what was accomplished, which exceeded their expectations.
Our students led devotions each morning and evening. We also participated in praise and worship each day, led by Glenn Sims, D'Arcy Schultz and Alyssa Thornton. In our free time, we enjoyed the pool, the beautiful ocean water, 4-square, gaga ball, and many highly competitive games of UNO.
Our experiences that week bonded us and left us with many memories. The students and adults arrived home with strengthened friendships, deepened faith and a renewed understanding of how blessed we truly are.
Special thanks and appreciation to all who participated: Lexi Angel, Andrew Baumert, Kyra Bulischeck, Anna Calloway, Aidan Giaccone, Ray Giaccone, Rayli Giaccone, Trish Giaccone, Ashley Harrison, Demetrius Headley, Wil Isrealson, Russ Keller, Kana Lyndon, Elizabeth Lugo-Navas, Saniya Lugo-Navas, Mackenzie Marvel, Joel Newman, Joshua Newman, Josiah Newman, Isabella Pancrazio, Joey Scalise, Nick Scalise, D'Arcy Schultz, Tyrel Schultz, Glenn Sims, Grace Spears, Heather Spears, Alyssa Thornton, Lee Thornton and Jess Utter.
Also, I would like to thank all of you who supported our various fundraisers in order to make this trip possible. We greatly appreciate your generosity. Please continue to pray for Gail, Andrew, Kaitlin, Brenda and all of those in the Panhandle who are trying to recover from Hurricane Michael.
—Lee Thornton is the youth ministry director at Palm Coast UMC.