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SUN CITY CENTER—Whether they are responding to tornado damage in Alabama, flooding in Tennessee or devastation closer to home, members of the disaster response team at Sun City Center United Methodist Church always have a plan.
That's because Earl Gall, coordinator of the team, created one.
The 72-year-old Gall retired after working as a mechanic for a vegetable processing company in Wisconsin.
“Our team at Sun City Center UMC has the means to respond to an area without having a place to stay,” Gall said, including generators, a porta-potty, camp cook stove, a microwave, tents and air mattresses. Team members are responsible for their own sleeping bags.
The team has a well-equipped trailer to haul supplies “that we're really proud of,” Gall said in an interview. The trailer is pulled by a church-owned truck, while the team travels in a van.
The church helped the team equip the trailer through fundraisers and donations, Gall said.
His checklist of detailed planning includes making sure there is access to fuel for vehicles throughout the trip. “We try to take the minimum number of vehicles because of cost and safety,” he said.
The Galls have responded to disasters twice in Tennessee, twice in Alabama and once in Georgia. They have been to Pahokee, Florida, several times and provided needed assistance locally 12 to 15 times, Gall said.
The team always requests funds from the church treasurer to help meet some trip needs. Gall and others figure that food costs about $14 per team member, per day. Fuel and supply costs vary, depending on the length of the trip.
The Sun City Center team occasionally makes monetary donations to the church where it is staying or to the people it is helping.
It's also important to enrich the spirit of disaster victims.
“We always pray before we start and pray over the family,” and sometimes host churches introduce team members during church services, Gall's wife, Gwynn, said.
When details are well-covered back home, mission trips often go smoothly.
At times, teams may include members from different churches and different faiths.
Gall suggested it’s helpful for the congregation of responding churches to prepare team member meals in advance. “We’re going to try to do that more often now,” he said. “By helping to prepare meals, they (congregations) become part of the mission trip.”
On a recent mission trip to Alabama, seven churches and 12 people participated.
Gall also emphasized the importance for a team recorder to keep home churches updated on team activities and progress by shooting photographs.
Daily, usually after the evening meal and devotions, time is spent discussing the day's events about positive or negative happenings. These are not meant to point fingers but to avoid unsafe conditions, Gall said.
Upon returning to home base, Gall recommended making congregations aware of team accomplishments and giving thanks to church members, staff and the community for their contributions toward a successful mission trip.
“It is important to keep team members interested and involved between conference-requested mission trips, he said.
After seven years of helping others, the Galls are looking to reduce their involvement in disaster relief. The new team leader is Bill Monsma, a snowbird. Earl Gall has resumed his leadership role until Monsma returns.
With the two devastating hurricanes striking in August and September of this year, the team pondered its next mission trip. Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Louisiana “is too far away for us,” Gall said. Victims there will be helped by disaster relief teams who live closer to the damage. But Hurricane Irma, which befell Florida, is a different story.
“We're on board to do whatever” for Irma, Gall said. At least eight team members pledged to work the disaster even before the strong storm made landfall in South Florida.
“Whenever they notify us that they need us, we are ready to go,” Gall said.
--Ed Scott is a freelance journalist based in Venice.