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Church pastor fills in as American Red Cross shelter manager (Sept. 16, 2004)

Church pastor fills in as American Red Cross shelter manager (Sept. 16, 2004)

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Church pastor fills in as American Red Cross shelter manager

Sept. 16, 2004    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140     Orlando  {0167}

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

ORLANDO  When Hurricane Frances was approaching the Orlando area Labor Day weekend, the Rev. Donna M. Latham felt compelled to help, but she didn't know how.

Latham, who moved to the area three years ago from Atlanta and is serving as part-time pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church in Sanford, had never been through a hurricane or major storm, but her first instinct was more about reaching out to the community and those in need than playing it safe and staying home.

Latham learned about an excellent opportunity to volunteer in the community while watching television news reports leading up to the storm. A commercial advertising the need for American Red Cross shelter managers struck her as something she could do, even though she had no experience or previous instruction.
Latham contacted the local chapter, and the next day she was in a four-hour training class. Just one day later, Sept. 2, she was in charge of the shelter set up at Freedom High School in Orlando, where as many as 800 people would seek refuge over a five-day span.

As Hurricane Frances raged outside the shelter, Latham kept a close eye on two special needs areas for people using oxygen tanks and another for people too ill to be in the general population, as well as the plethora of single people, couples and families who camped out on the gymnasium floor. The staff of the high school pitched in to help, making the experience less frightening. Latham said the shelter's residents were manageable and spent the majority of their time listening to portable radios, watching portable digital disc players, reading or playing board games.

"I just had this desire deep down in my heart to help," she said. "Trinity is such a small church. I knew it couldn't be used as a shelter. So I did that and I'm so glad I did. It was a very rewarding experience."

And surprising, she said.

Throughout the shelter word spread that Latham was a pastor, and at about 10:30 p.m. Sept. 4, a small group of people approached her and asked if she would lead a service the next day, which was Sunday. Latham graciously accepted and 24 hours later she was preaching in an overflowing atrium outside the gymnasium about standing up for what is right, from the first chapter of Daniel. The service was also part Bible study, a question and answer period, and a time of sharing for those in attendance.

"It was very heartwarming," she said.

Latham said the overall experience, minus sleeping on the floor for five days, was so fulfilling she would do it again if her schedule allows it. She is taking courses at the Orlando campuses of Asbury Theological Seminary and Florida Christian Seminary, where she is also an adjunct professor, all while maintaining her full-time job as a fourth-grade teacher at Pinecastle Elementary School in Orlando and her part-time work at Trinity.

Latham refuses to allow the busy schedule to give her any excuses not to stand in the gap for those in need during a disaster or any other time.

"I will do it as often as I can," she said. "I would definitely do it again, only I would take a cot."


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.

Groups interested in forming a work team to assist with hurricane 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

Donations for relief may also be made to UMCOR Advance #982410, "Hurricanes 2004," and dropped into church offering plates or mailed to UMCOR, 475 Riverside Dr., Room 330, New York, NY 10115. People donating by credit card can call 800-554-8583.

For conference news and storm updates 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.