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Miami-area churches fill gap for Florida's neediest hurricane victims

Miami-area churches fill gap for Florida's neediest hurricane victims

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Miami-area churches fill gap for Florida's neediest hurricane victims

Sept. 29, 2005    News media contact:  Tita Parham*    
800-282-8011     Orlando {0377}

NOTE: This is one of a series of articles on local church and district-wide Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.

An e-Review Feature
By Nancy E. Johnson**

MIAMI — Families of migrant farm workes accept clothing distributed by Cutler Ridge United Methodist Church at a migrant camp in South Florida. The church is also collecting other items for the families to help them cope with the loss of jobs and property caused by Hurricane Katrina. Flooding from the storm destroyed fields and crops. Photo by Betty Grantham, Photo #05-248.

There's no work in flooded fields.

That's the situation facing between 500 and 1,000 migrant farmer workers in South Florida who are now jobless or will be out of work soon.

Before barreling into the Gulf Coast, Hurricane Katrina dropped more than 20 inches of rain on south Miami-Dade County, leaving most nurseries and farm fields underwater. Growers lost about $30 million in avocado and okra crops. 

"The main human need right now is the farm workers who were flooded," said the Rev. Deborah McLeod, superintendent of the conference's South East District. "Our churches don't want to neglect people close to home."

Many of those churches are repairing minor structural damage to their buildings caused by Katrina and sending aid to their neighbors on the Gulf Coast, but one of their main concerns is the plight of the farm workers.

"Some of these people fall through the cracks," said the Rev. Diane Gutierrez, pastor of Florida City United Methodist Church. "We weren't declared a disaster area so FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) didn't come in."

The Florida City church is one of several trying to fill that gap. The church opened a food pantry for the workers and is collecting rice and beans, diapers, clothing and health kits.

"If they're in need, we help them," Gutierrez said.

Cutler Ridge United Methodist Church in Miami collected 400 pounds of beans and rice for the South Dade Migrant Labor Camp.

"They're incredibly grateful — very, very grateful. They're slow to indicate emotion, but they're extremely grateful for what we're able to do," said Fred Grantham, a member of the church.

Romana Vallejo's family works in the avocado fields. She says migrant workers face an uncertain future. "What they're doing right now is cleaning the fields. We don't know how long they'll be working."

McLeod is also concerned farm workers will be too fearful to ask for help. "Some are undocumented," she said. "They're afraid to come forward for fear of being deported."

While many churches are responding to  workers' needs, Bob Ladner believes church leaders could do more.

"People of color are invisible in many cases," said Ladner, who's serving as disaster response coordinator for the South East District. "It tears my heart out that we overlook our community members if they're not a part of our flock."

Ladner said migrant families live near several United Methodist churches in south Miami-Dade County.

"We have wonderful pastors who go out in the street and work teams itching to be in service to help," Ladner said. "But there are some (pastors) who believe once the people in their congregations are okay, they've done their jobs."

The needs of the farm workers are ongoing. The next crops won't be ready for picking until November or December. Some of the migrants are busy doing clean-up work, but they've been told there will be no work by mid-October.

"Rice and beans are their staple," Gutierrez said. "We definitely need more help. They're going to need food for the long term."

How churches and members can help

* Gather supplies for Florida and other affected statesFor Florida: Migrant workers in South Florida were hard hit by Hurricane Katrina. Florida City United Methodist Church/Florida City Hispanic Mission is collecting rice and beans, non-perishable foodstuffs, diapers, health kits, new men's blue jeans in small and medium sizes, new men's t-shirts (or clean t-shirts in good condition) and baby clothes. Call Diane Gutierrez at 305-247-0911 to arrange for delivery of items. Health kit items can be found at For other states: The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) no longer needs donations of bottled water, but other items are in short supply, including health kits, school kits, new sets of twin sheets, new pillows, new blankets and new air mattresses. Health and school kit items and packaging instructions may be found at Items can be sent to the Florida Conference Disaster Response Depot in Madison (call to make delivery arrangements: 850-869-0882 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"). Donations of clothing will not be accepted by either the Madison or Sager Brown depot because there are not enough volunteers to sort the clothes.

* Organize volunteer teams — Teams are needed to work in both Florida and other affected states. Those who are interested in being part of a team should contact the Florida Conference Storm Recovery Center (SRC) at 800-282-8011, extension 149.

* Donate — to UMCOR Advance No. 982523, "Hurricanes 2005 Global," or UMCOR Advance No. 901323, "Hurricane Rita" appeal. 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.

A camera-ready flier "Hurricanes 2005: How to Help" is available on the Florida Conference Web site at 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.
**Nancy E. Johnson is a Florida-based, freelance television and print journalist.