Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:18, ESV)
For Anne Hasler of South Shore UMC, Riverview, it’s the disabled couple who needed their windows cleaned and a few minor repairs around the home.
“We repaired a handicap ramp and painted it with safety paint,” Hasler recalled. “They were amazed that somebody took the time to notice they needed help.”
For Norm Blanton, a church pastor in Plant City, it’s a family whose home had become such an eyesore for junk and weeds that the property owner faced thousands of dollars in code enforcement fines. Thanks to the teamwork of Christian volunteers, the home site was cleaned up and the fines dismissed.
Those are stories that linger in their minds from past participation in CareFest, an annual outreach that brings people of all faiths and from various nonprofit organizations together to help disadvantaged neighbors with simple home repairs, pressure washing and yard work.
“It’s one of those very few events that unite a community,” said Blanton, who is coordinating efforts in Hillsborough.
Slated this year for Saturday, Sept. 26, thousands of volunteers in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties, as well as St. Augustine, are expected to fan out across their communities to tackle projects for disabled veterans, single parents, unemployed homeowners and others who can’t physically or financially manage the maintenance themselves.
It’s an effort coordinated since 2002 by Somebody Cares Tampa Bay, a nonprofit organization with a Christian focus based in Clearwater.
In addition to South Shore, United Methodist churches in Sun City Center and Ruskin have signed up to participate in the upcoming CareFest event, and planning began in the spring.
But it’s not too late for additional congregations to join the effort, Blanton said.
About a dozen volunteers from mainline and nondenominational churches met last week at South Shore UMC and divvied up such preliminary tasks as screening projects for eligibility and evaluating the work to be done in terms of skills and materials needed for each project.
Blanton said he has been appealing especially to churches with emergency response teams. CareFest projects, which typically involve painting and replacing woodwork, can provide practice opportunities for disaster recovery volunteers, he said.
Asked about the evangelical opportunities of the outreach, volunteers at the meeting recalled some instances where people that were helped through CareFest began attending church. Blanton said he likes to match volunteers with projects in their home church community for that reason.
But he added, “You need to be led by the Lord. We don’t really go in and hammer them with the gospel. You want to tell them this is a Christ-centered effort in our community.”
Stephanie Flatt, who is coordinating South Shore UMC’s effort with her husband, Daryl, said volunteers often can show Christian compassion through listening. She said that was her role on a recent disaster recovery mission to help homeowners coping with tornado damage in Alabama.
“They talked to me nonstop,” she recalled. “All I did was listen and be compassionate. … There’s a place for all of us.”
Hasler said volunteers who aren’t able to do physical labor are welcome and can help others on the team by putting the homeowner at ease through conversation.
Blanton said church leaders who know of needs in their community also are encouraged to suggest projects.
For information about CareFest, click here or call (727) 536-2273. To contact Blanton about projects or volunteer opportunities in Hillsborough, call (813) 326-0749 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
– Susan Green is the Florida Conference managing editor.