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Churches respond in aftermath of hurricane (Aug. 19, 2004)

Churches respond in aftermath of hurricane (Aug. 19, 2004)

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Churches respond in aftermath of hurricane

Aug. 19, 2004    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140     Orlando  {0145}

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

ARCADIA — Ozel Martin stands in front of the remains of his mother’s carport at her Arcadia home. The carport was destroyed and the home's roof was damaged during Hurricane Charley. Photo by J.A. Buchholz, Photo #04-0069.
LAKELAND — Elaine Williams struggles to find the words to explain living through Hurricane Charley, but comes up empty as tears stream down her face.

The Arcadia resident's home was destroyed in the storm. Now, she and her husband and two children are living with her aunt in a one-bedroom apartment until they can make other living arrangements.

"There are no words to describe it," she said as she left Trinity United Methodist Church, Arcadia, Aug. 18 with some essential items-cleaning supplies, food, toiletries. "It's very depressing and very devastating. I'm just thankful to be able to come here and get some help."

Each day since Charley unleashed a torrential amount of rain and more than 130-mile per hour winds on the city, hundreds of residents have streamed into the downtown church seeking a hot meal and necessities.

The Rev. David Harris, pastor of the church, said 80 people sought shelter at the church while he rode out the storm with his family less than a mile away at the parsonage.

Although Harris has been the Florida Conference's disaster response coordinator for a number of years, it was his first time experiencing a hurricane. "It was frightening," he said. "I didn't know what to expect, but I knew the Lord was going to take care of us."

Harris was in his car and on his way to the church minutes after the hurricane had passed.

"It took me 20 minutes to find a street that was passable with all the downed power lines and trees," he said. "It brought tears to my eyes to see the houses that were completely devastated."

The church, like most of the community, lost power, but is operating with generators. It has provided more than 450 hot meals each day since the storm hit, with help from church volunteers from throughout the conference.

Arcadia is located in the Sarasota District about 20 to 30 miles from the Punta Gorda and Port Charlotte areas, where the storm made landfall. Harris said there has been a steady stream of donations from churches in the district, as well as from as far away as Gainesville and Jacksonville.

Volunteers from the church continue to go into the community in work teams to remove debris and do minor household repair, such as covering damaged roofs with tarp. Crews have also been dispatched to distribute food and cleaning items to neighborhood homes. He said churches are sending supplies, and volunteers are working to put essential items into bags for residents.

ARCADIA — Crystal, left, and Twanda Cooper receive bags of essential items at Trinity United Methodist Church here. The church has given hundreds of bags filled with food, cleaning supplies, bug spray and toiletry items to neighbors. Photo by J.A. Buchholz, Photo #04-0071.

Amy Byal is one of those volunteers. The member of Harvest United Methodist Church, Bradenton, was working Wednesday to put paper products-cups, plates and towels-into bags. She said she felt compelled to volunteer because she could have been the one in need had the hurricane hit her area.

Ozel Martin, who lives in Tallahassee, had not been tracking the storm the day it hit because it was not initially projected to significantly affect Arcadia, his hometown. He had no idea the hurricane had changed course until 30 minutes before it hit the area. The Tallahassee resident was fearful for his 96-year-old mother and her caregiver, who live in Arcadia.

Martin said they were not injured, but their house has holes in the roof and is not livable, so he's taking his mother to Tallahassee with him. Martin took a break Wednesday from salvaging what he could from the house and enjoyed a hamburger, cold drink and brownie at the church, where he once worked as janitor when he was a boy.

"I knew it was bad, but I could not believe my eyes when I arrived in town," he said. "I still can't believe it."

Frances Turnball was equally shocked by the storm. She also went to the church Wednesday to get whatever supplies were available for the 12 family members living in her home because they can't return to their homes.

"I need everything," she said, as she was waited in line.

Supplies are also precious commodities at Myakka City United Methodist Church 21 miles north of Arcadia. In addition to serving three hot meals provided by Salvation Army volunteers from Gulf Port, Miss., the church also set up an area in the fellowship hall for people to get diapers, personal hygiene items, food and water.

The Rev. Chet Zarzycki, pastor of the church, said the church has become the community center for the small town. Like Trinity in Arcadia, the church is operating with generators, and it has joined forces with four other area churches to minister to the community and meet people's needs.

"This is an incredible community," said Zarzycki, who opened the parsonage as a shelter during the hurricane. "The real story, besides the hurricane, is how people have been coming together."

David Parks, a member of Myakka Baptist Church, has been volunteering at the United Methodist church every day. He drives throughout the community to let people know food and supplies are available at the church.

MYAKKA — Lisa Paul, right, assists her daughter with a meal at Myakka City United Methodist Church Wednesday afternoon. Paul said she heard the church was providing hot "thorugh word of mouth." "The hurricane was scary," she said. "It was my first one so I didn’t know what to expect. I’m glad it's over." Photo by J.A. Buchholz, Photo #04-0070.
Lisa Paul heard the church was providing meals through word of mouth. She said she was grateful she was able to get a hot meal Wednesday after being without electricity for almost five days.

Myakka City member Earl "Trey" Ness said it feels good to be part of the church that's reaching out to the community. He said he is thankful he's self-employed so he can devote as much time as needed to the church.

"It's time to help our brothers and sisters," he said. "We are all working together. Although we are without power and water, we know how blessed we are because a few miles down the road, they are really going through it. That hurricane was something. I'll never forget the trees twirling in the wind or the sound. It sounded like it was growling or roaring."

Zarzycki said the church, and the community, is roaring back to life, little by little. He said he is thankful there was no loss of life and the houses are livable or repairable.

"We made it through," he said.

Florida Conference United Methodists are encouraged to send contributions to "Florida Storm Recovery Fund" Conference Special #605 to their local church. Church offerings should be sent to the Florida Conference Treasurer, The United Methodist Church, P.O. Box 3767, Lakeland, FL 33802.

Individuals or groups interested in coordinating a group to assist with Hurricane Charley relief and recovery efforts should contact the Florida Storm Recovery Center at 1-800-282-8011, extension 149. The Florida Conference Storm Recovery Team can be contacted by e-mail at

For conference news and updates related to Hurricane Charley go to


This article relates to Florida Conference Disaster Response.

*Wacht is director of Florida United Methodist Communications and managing editor
of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service