The sheer size of Irma and the massive destruction it left behind in September can lead some to forget that current disaster recovery volunteer teams are actually working on helping survivors of three storms: 2016’s Hurricanes Hermine and Matthew and 2017’s Irma.
Recently, two volunteer teams came to Pasco County to help two Hermine survivors. The Northeast team members included Barbara Burnside, Jill Peters, Laura Puckett and John Chickering. Burnside, of North Andover, Mass., is disaster response and missions coordinator with the New England Conference of The United Methodist Church.
Humor goes a long way on hot, humid work days spent far away from home. Team leader Jill Peters, an administrative assistant at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, says she has a lot of painting experience, she's fairly handy with tools and is mechanically inclined, but “I mostly brought my heart,” she said. “And I'm the egg cooker in the morning.”
Puckett, a non-profit professional from Mercersburg, Pa., says when Hurricane Irma hit, she spoke with her pastor about her participating in disaster relief for the first time. They decided to connect her with organizations like UMCOR that already have systems in place.
Then, ironically, she spoke with former classmate John Chickering, of Franklin, Mass., at a high school reunion, and she agreed to join Peters' Northeast team. This is the 18th mission trip for Chickering, who recently retired from a career in technology and financial services.
“Part of my mission here is to help others go off and run these things when I am not around,” he said.
Still beleaguered by a storm they rode out in their respective homes 16 months ago, two residents of West Central Florida received assistance from the team this December.
Jack Thayer's home in Port Richey, in West Pasco County, Florida, has been in his family since it was built in 1973. Life in retirement was pretty good for Thayer until late August 2016, when Hermine damaged his roof.
|Hurricane survivor Jack Thayer of Port Richey. -Photo by Ed Scott|
Thayer didn't hide from the storm. He sat on the sofa in his living room as the ceiling collapsed on the love seat next to him. He then entered the family room, where part of the ceiling collapsed as well.
“I jumped out of the way and it grazed my arm just a little bit,” Thayer said.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was able to help him out a little bit financially, but it was unable to provide Thayer with all the funds needed for a new roof. Seeing crosses on a wall in Thayer's home, a FEMA representative encouraged him to meet with a local charitable organization to ask for help.
Thayer says he met with representatives of Joining Hands, a United Methodist mission church in Holiday, and Pastor Laura Ice, disaster recovery coordinator with the Florida Conference.
In 2016 the group assessed the situation–Ice climbed up on the old roof–and, ultimately, a recovery team put on a new roof, which was funded by a grant. The construction work included other things that Thayer, a retired tradesman (he did mostly masonry work), could no longer do because of health issues.
At first, Thayer didn't think he would get any help. He considered Hermine's visit to be “the onset of the last days of my life.”
But he watched as teams of conference employees and United Methodist volunteers went to work repairing his home, restoring hope for the future.
“Suddenly, things turned around,” he said on a mid-December morning recently, as volunteers from Pennsylvania and Massachusetts worked with a conference construction coordinator on his lanai.
Thayer says when work is completed, he hopes to have a grand re-opening of his home. He says he feels he's been made whole by the “volunteerism and selfless commitment by so many people within these organizations that come and help.”
Beth Bendl lives six miles north of Thayer, near two canals and the Gulf of Mexico. Her parents built the home in 1977.
Like Thayer, Bendl was home on the night of the storm, with Bobby, her significant other of 25 years. They were not expecting the storm to cause much damage. Dangerously rising water levels are rare there, she said.
|Hurricane survivor Beth Bendl gets her home repaired. -Photo by Ed Scott|
Bendl and Bobby put some towels on the floor up against a door. But at about 10 p.m., she said, the weather “deteriorated…fast.” They watched as, for the first time she can remember, water came up the street and into their yard and home.
The towels didn't keep the water out and Bobby, on the deck with a push broom, was no match for 70-mile-per-hour winds. Bendl's relatively new laminate floor separated, buckled and was ruined.
Bendl had insurance, but high deductibles and depreciation made that repair option difficult. FEMA could not help her because she had insurance, but Bendl got the help she needed when a representative of the conference called.
Bendl was told that if she provided the materials, conference volunteers would repair her home.
On the same mid-December day that two volunteers worked on Thayer's house, two others from the same Northeast team were putting finishing touches on Bendl's home, including a new floor.
“I'm grateful,” Bendl said. “The folks who have come in are the most beautiful people.”
With the Bendl home in the final stages of recovery, Burnside said, its residents soon would be able to regain use of amenities and appliances everyone takes for granted, such as running water and having the refrigerator and stove in the kitchen rather than the living room.
“That's been very gratifying for them and it's been a joy for us to see how excited they are to finally be able to move out of their boxes and into their home,” Burnside said.
--Ed Scott is a freelance writer based in Venice.
Editor’s Note: Donatehere to the Florida Conference Hurricane Irma Fund to help churches and the neighborhoods that surround them. Volunteer to bring yourself or a team to help with the recovery. Together, with God, we are bigger! #flumcWeAreBigger