TRIP 2004

Update #05 - September 09th
Clewiston, Florida - 9,148 miles (14,637 KM)

Between Bartow and Punta Gorda, FL, I spent twelve days working with ten agencies and ministries performing disaster relief after Hurricanes Charley and Frances. I even became a survivor of Hurricane Frances. This puts me at 7 Hurricanes and 12 Natural Disasters that I've helped after.

In Fort Meade, Florida, I spent a couple hours at the First Baptist Church in Ft. Meade. I helped some new friends of mine with the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief group from Northern Texas get ready with the preparations to start cooking today's meals in their mobile kitchen. The had come from the Dallas area with a mobile kitchen that was in 2 semi-trucks and they could prepare at least 5,000 meals each day when needed. I had stayed with the group at the First Baptist Church in Bartow the following night.

From Bartow, I followed U.S. 17 down to Wauchula. This small inland town was really hit bad during Hurricane Charley. I had started to see the damage just south of Bartow. It was quite reminiscent of the Cutler Ridge-Homestead area after Hurricane Andrew. Pretty well all of the downtown buildings were damaged.

I found my way over to the First Baptist Church where the American Red Cross had their headquarters. The church had some wind damage especially with regards to the steeple but it was a staging ground for the American Red Cross, the Christian Relief Group from Illinois, and the a Southern Baptist Relief team from Georgia that prepared all of the meals.

I was immediately signed up as a long-distance volunteer. They were quite impressed when I told them that I had ridden 10 days by bicycle from NE Georgia to help them out. It didn't take them too long for me to get assigned to a team going out on a E.R.V. (Emergency Response Vehicle) which went out into the community providing meals. Between 8/26 and 8/29, I went out on 5 different runs and helped give out several thousand meals.

I also helped out with direct disaster relief giving out supplies at the church. I stayed at the church in one of the Sunday school classrooms. Staying at the church was a bit of a problem because a lot of the people in the relief team were pretty closed minded. They expressed their feeling quite openly in saying that if you were not a Southern Baptist you were not going to Heaven. They made me feel that I was stepping on their turf.

I fit in quite well with the American Red Cross team and volunteers but around the Southern Baptists I was pretty well alone in the crowd. They were just a few that opened up to me and made me welcome. The church was quite influential and I'm not sure if any of the church members volunteered to help us out. I didn't see the pastor but twice on Sunday for the services.

Due to the fact that they were closing out the meal runs Sunday night (8/29), I left the church and headed down to Arcadia twenty-five miles away the next day. I got involved with the Salvation Army giving out disaster supplies at a closed down Circle-K that was damaged during Hurricane Charley about five miles north of Arcadia. I worked at the disaster center for two days while staying in a new friend's motor home. My new friend and her husband were local volunteers and they invited me to stay with them for a while. I might have given out supplies and provided some comfort (sharing a kind word) to several hundred people.

I enjoyed my stay with my new friends but I got a bad impression of the Salvation Army. During the last night of the disaster center operation, there were just a few people left and we were trying to gather up the remaining supplies and load them and the food left over in boxes into a trailer. A major thunderstorm rolled through the area with a lot of lightening. Before it got really bad, one of the higher ups in the Salvation Army Corps rushed to our site telling their people that they had to leave immediately.

There was a rumor that a tornado had been spotted but nobody had heard any sirens or heard anything about the possible tornado on the radio. The higher-ups shown no concern for my safety and my friend since we didn't have a ride into town at the time. We were able to complete our tasks and head back to town before it really started to pour. I am really going to have to pray about getting involved with the Salvation Army again.

For several hours on Sept. 01, I also helped out the Peace River Christian Academy that was in the Pentecostal Church fellowship hall in Arcadia get ready to open their school. Between Sept. 02 and Sept 06, I stayed at the Trinity United Methodist Church helping them get ready to turn the church into a disaster shelter for Hurricane Frances. There were around 150 people that stayed at the church over the weekend while Hurricane Frances blew past. The youngest person was around 18 months and the oldest was a sweet lady of 101. It was really neat playing cards with her and listening to her stories about her being a school teacher in a one-roomed classroom in the 1920's. The church didn't sustain any damage. We were quite lucky because the path of the Hurricane was around 30 miles north.

The church closed it's doors around noon September 6th, so I headed south on the way to Punta Gordo. It was really dangerous for me to be on the road because of the high winds but I didn't have a choice. The minister at the Methodist church told that I would not be able to stay over for the night without supervision from one of the church members and that I had to leave. None of the other churches in Arcadia were open. I went as far as Fort Ogden about twelve miles south of Arcadia and stopped at the First Baptist Church.

I didn't get a good feeling of welcome from the members of the Trinity United Methodist Church. They were quite closed. They pretty well opened the church up only for the prestige (publicity) and to give the church members a place of refuge out of Hurricane Frances' wrath but there were a couple of church members that really helped in the shelter.

There were more out of town people helping out at the church than members. One of the church members who was the music director's wife was really hard on us. She didn't want any strangers staying in her church. She was especially not happy when several large Hispanic families came to the church for refuge. During the weekend, there was a big showing and separation of them "the church members" and us "the non-church members". There were three older couples who wanted reserved spaces for their chairs, special sleeping areas in the classrooms, and reserved spots at the dining tables.

What hurt my spirit the most was what I saw from the pastor and his wife. They had recently moved from the Titusville area. They did not really show Christian compassion. Two days before the Hurricane hit, a large group of ladies from out-of-town and myself boxed up all the disaster food and supplies and stored them away in classrooms so that the basement fellowship hall could be turned into a disaster shelter.

One of our tasks was to move several hundred bottles of water of various sizes into a classroom. About a half hour after everything had been put away and the fellowship hall made ready, the pastor's wife was in the office talking to several ladies. A lady came into the church asking us if we had any bottled water. I was really floored when I heard the pastor's wife tell the lady that they didn't have any water to spare. In fact, we had several hundred gallons of water in storage and there was no way that we would use all of it over the weekend when the hurricane would hit. All I could think about was the latter part of Matthew 25 that said, "What you don't do for the least of my brothers, you don't do it upon me (the Messiah)".

The pastor was also like that. He was quite reluctant in giving out food that was in storage. During the height of Hurricane Frances, a homeless person who might have had a drinking problem was refused refuge from the storm. The pastor's showing of compassion was quite limited.

At the First Baptist Church in Fort Ogden, the pastor was quite the opposite from the Methodist pastor. I went out with the pastor and some of the men of the church to do emergency repairs on two roofs. I got to spend the night in the church.

Tuesday, Sept. 07th, I rode down to Punta Gordo, where I spent a little time with the St. Vincent DePaul and Catholic Charities groups at the Catholic Church doing a little disaster relief. For most of the rest of the day, I volunteered at the Habitat for Humanity affiliate office that sustained some rain damage. They helped me with lodging for the night.

Due to some out-of-town guests, I wasn't able to spend the night with my friends in LaBelle. My friends did provide me with a good night's rest at a local motel. Currently, I am on my way to the East Coast of Florida to see what I can do with the disaster relief after Hurricane Frances. My first stop with be in Jenson Beach sometime this Saturday since I have some friends at the First Baptist Church. I will then be going on to Ft. Pierce to see if I can get involved with a faith-based disaster relief ministry.

My concern is Hurricane Ivan that might make landfall in Southern Florida sometime late this weekend. Currently it is a major Category 5 storm.

I'll try and post and update as often as I can if my plans change again.



Bicyclist in Sunset



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