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Churches, residents rally to bring survivors hope

Churches, residents rally to bring survivors hope

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Churches, residents rally to bring survivors hope

Sept. 11, 2005    News media contact:  Tita Parham*    
800-282-8011     Orlando {0362}

NOTE:  Churches across the conference are responding to the needs of hurricane survivors. This is one of a series of articles on local church and district-wide relief efforts that will be included in e-Review coverage of the conference's hurricane response.

An e-Review Feature
By Tita Parham

ORLANDO — Their goal was 1,000, and by a little after noon they had filled 109. That's boxes — "hope boxes."

ORLANDO — People stopping by the "It's a Good Thing" Hurricane Relief Rally at the Lake Nona YMCA could write messages of encouragement on a banner that will be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church in Gulfport, Miss. Photo by Tita Parham, Photo #05-235.

Members of three churches, the local YMCA and the Lake Nona community in southeast Orlando gave up their Saturday to rally for survivors of Hurricane Katrina and fill boxes with much more than relief supplies.

"We're trying to think of different things we can do to touch that one person so they know there's hope," said Dawn Ballantyne, the mission team chairwoman for Lake Nona YMCA, where the "It's A Good Thing" Hurricane Relief Rally was being held Sept. 10 from 10 a.m. to 3 that afternoon.

The rally was a cooperative effort between the YMCA, Spring of Life United Methodist Church, CrossPointe Church Orlando, Journey of Life Lutheran Church, Publix and the North Lake Park Community School attached to the YMCA.

Carolyn Williamson, a member of Spring of Life United Methodist Church and the wife of the church's pastor, the Rev. David Williamson, said the three churches hold services at the YMCA and have done things together in the past, including a Celebrate Jesus Mission last year. She said that's when the "It's A Good Thing" name got started, and the group wanted to continue using it. "It's a partnership," she said.

"We're three small churches meeting together. We've got the YMCA. We thought, "Why don't we partner together to do a really big (relief) effort, instead of all of us doing our own thing," she said, adding her church will celebrate its third anniversary this November.

Church members and residents filled the hope boxes with relief supplies that will be given to Goad International, a local relief organization, for delivery to churches along the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and Louisiana.

Williamson said the group chose to work with Goad International instead of a national relief organization or one associated with any of the three churches because it's in the community and the event was "really a community-wide effort."

People attending the rally could also write personal notes on a banner that will be given to Trinity United Methodist Church in Gulfport, Miss., to be hung there so members of the community can see they aren't alone. Those who stopped by could also make a donation of money or supplies — they didn't have to stay and pack boxes. And people visiting the Publix down the street could donate money for the relief effort and blood at the Central Florida Blood Bank mobile unit parked in the parking lot. There was some way for everyone to help.

ORLANDO — Volunteers of all ages attend the "It's a Good Thing" Hurricane Relief Rally at the Lake Nona YMCA to help assemble "hope boxes" of supplies that will be delivered by Goad International to churches along the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and Mississippi. Photo by Tita Parham, Photo #05-236.

Kids of all ages attended the rally, helping fill the boxes and making cards with messages of encouragement to go in each box.

Elena and Sarah, both 9 years old, explained how to pack a box. "You go around to each area and pick up the supplies, then you mark them off on the list," Elena said. "You circle the ones you don't have."

The supplies were brought to the YMCA throughout the rally by people who'd heard about the event. They included items designated by Goad to make up a hope box - things like toothbrushes, batteries, baby formula, diapers, protein bars, hand sanitizer and peanut butter. The items were separated into individual stations around a large room, and volunteers went from station to station, putting the requested number of each item into their boxes. When a box was filled it went to the stage to wait until someone could take a load outside, where it would then wait until it was ready to go to Goad.

Amidst all the activity Ballantyne, a member of Pine Castle United Methodist Church, shouted words of encouragement as if leading a pep rally. "Don't get discouraged if you run out of supplies," she shouted into her hand-held microphone as dozens of volunteers scurried around her, pushing boxes from station to station. "Everything you're doing is appreciated."

Greta Simmons said she came to the rally because she wanted to "do something physical to help." She said she had already donated money and taken pet supplies to her local animal hospital.

Simmons said she heard about the rally through a flier she received in the mail. It directed her to a Web site where she could get more information and respond to an e-mail address there to let organizers know how she wanted to help at the rally — donate money or supplies or volunteer to pack boxes. Simmons responded to the e-mail Friday night and found an e-mail from Carolyn Williamson in her in-box the next morning, the day of the rally.

Williamson said the pastor of the Journey of Life church mailed fliers to residents and hundreds more were handed out around the community, including to parents who recently attended an open house at the school.

"I just wanted to help," Simmons said. "I was very concerned (for the survivors)."

And like many people across the Southeast, Simmons said she is anxious during this hurricane season. "Ever since last year, you're on edge," she said, adding she's lived in Florida for 12 years, but doesn't remember being so worried before last year's storms hit the state.

Sarah and Elena said they heard about the rally from Sarah's dad, who brought them to help out, but he didn't have to twist their arms. Elena said she has seen the news and heard about all the kids from the affected areas who have to go to new schools. She said she feels sorry for them. "That's why I think I should do this," she said.

Blake Ballantyne said he felt bad for the kids, too, but also for all the families. He's been hearing about their situation from news reports. "It's hard watching the news ... for my mom and dad," the 8-year-old said. "It makes them really sad that they (survivors) don't have anything and we're sitting there watching TV on the couch."

Ballantyne said fifth-graders from the North Lake Park school wrote hand-written letters to kids in affected areas that will be sent with the boxes. They included a self-addressed envelope so the children who receive them can write back. Ballantyne said that was done so the kids here can "talk to them to help give them hope."

How churches and members can help

* Donate: to UMCOR Advance No. 982523, "Hurricanes 2005 Global." Contributions can be made online at, at local churches or by phone at 800-554-8583. Checks should include the Advance number and name on the memo line. Checks given at local churches should be made payable to the local church. Checks mailed directly to UMCOR at P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087-9068 should be made payable to UMCOR. Checks to support recovery in a specific region should reflect that.

* Gather supplies: The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) has issued an emergency appeal for Health Kits, Flood Buckets, bottled water and blankets. Health Kit and Flood Bucket items and packaging instructions may be found at (There is a more urgent need for Health Kits.) Items can be sent to the Florida Conference Disaster Response Depot in Madison (call to make delivery arrangements: 850-869-0882 (cell) or 850-929-4938) or UMCOR's Sager Brown Depot, P.O. Box 850, 131 Sager Brown Road, Baldwin, LA 70514-0850 (please also provide $1.00 per kit to cover distribution costs and send it to Sager Brown UMCOR Advance #982730, "Contain Your Joy").

* Organize volunteer teams: Teams wanting to work in affected areas should contact the Florida Conference Storm Recovery Center (SRC) at 800-282-8011, extension 149, which is working with M.E.R.C.I. (United Methodist Disaster Response Center of North Carolina) to coordinate efforts.

* Search out housing: Churches that would like to become shelters should contact their local chapter of the American Red Cross. Individuals who know of empty buildings in Florida that can be used to house displaced families should call the SRC.

Individuals looking for family members or friends who live in affected areas should call the Salvation Army at 847-709-6700 or the American Red Cross at 800-435-7669.

A camera-ready flier "Hurricane Katrina: How to Help" is available for download from the conference Web site at It may be distributed with bulletins during worship services or at other church gatherings. The SRC can be reached at 800-282-8011, extension 149.


This article relates to Disaster Response.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.