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Miami area churches work on drying out, reaching out to community

Miami area churches work on drying out, reaching out to community

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Miami area churches work on drying out, reaching out to community

Oct. 27, 2005  News media contact: Tita Parham*  
800-282-8011   Orlando {0389}

An e-Review Feature
By Tita Parham

MIAMI — Miami Lakes United Methodist Church lost its steeple during Hurricane Wilma. Photo courtesy of Miami Lakes United Methodist Church, Photo #05-262.

ORLANDO — The Rev. Debbie McLeod has been visiting churches and communities in the Broward County area of the metropolitan Miami area to assess damages and needs in the aftermath of Hurricane Wilma.

McLeod, superintendent of the South East District of the Florida Conference, is finding church members who are working hard to help their neighbors, despite their own challenges and a shortage of supplies.

Since Wilma barreled across South Florida Oct. 24, food, water and gas have been scarce. The power is still off in most areas, and Marilyn Swanson, project director for the Florida Conference Storm Recovery Center (SRC), estimates it won't be restored until mid- to late November.

"There's a lot of need, but no materials," McLeod said from her cell phone Oct. 27 while visiting Rader Memorial United Methodist Church in Miami. "Red Cross shelters are set up, and FEMA is on the way, but there are 4 million people in the metropolitan area."

The district has the largest population of people affected by the storm. Many have used up what supplies they did have and poorer residents could not afford to stock up prior to the storm, adding to the shortage, McLeod said.

And with little gas available and no busses running, McLeod is concerned the poor and elderly have no way to get to distribution sites. She said many in the community are migrant and farm workers, whose livelihoods have been jeopardized because of damage to fields and crops, and those considered working poor.

"There are lots of day laborers who don't get paid if they don't work," she said.

Rader Memorial is trying to make a dent in the problem by serving as a distribution center. A truck filled with supplies from the Florida Conference Disaster Response Depot in Madison arrived at the church Oct. 27 to help get the center up and running. The church has also been cooking meals — on gas stoves since there's no electricity.

Rosemary Rotolo, who works as an administrative assistant in the district office and lives in the North Miami Beach area, said "the situation is terrible," with roads impassable and people lining up for water, only to have none arrive. McLeod said people have been waiting in line for as long as six hours for supplies.

"I'm really afraid it's going to get worse before it gets better," Rotolo said.

Like everywhere else, the district office does not have power, and phones are still not working consistently across the area, so communication has been difficult. Rotolo said district staff and response workers have contacted all of the churches, but a connection hasn't been made with everyone because of the communication issues.

McLeod damage to the district's 84 churches and parsonages is minor to severe.

While members of Epworth United Methodist Church in Hollywood were drying out hymnals and pew cushions, they were also cooking food for residents and canvassing the neighborhood to see what they could do to help. The church sustained significant roof damage "soaking everything inside," according to McLeod.

And with a gaping hole in its roof and nothing but sky above the balcony, McLeod said Christ Church United Methodist in Fort Lauderdale is continuing its outreach in the community and other states. She said teams have been to Mississippi several times to help victims of Hurricane Katrina.

"It's not just about their damage. At lots of churches people brought food to the church and are taking it out," she said. "And that's what we're hearing over and over again."

But supplies are running out and area churches need more. "There is a great need for water and non-perishable food," Swanson said.

A list of distribution sites and needs is listed on the Florida Conference Web site at

Volunteers interested in helping throughout South Florida should call the SRC at 800-282-8011, extension 149. The center recommends that teams be "self-contained," since housing and supplies are in short supply. Volunteers should also check the conference Web site for updates.

Individuals may also donate funds 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.


This article relates to Disaster Response.

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