ANNA MARIA – When Hurricane Michael made landfall Oct. 10 in the Florida Panhandle near Mexico Beach as a Category 4 storm, it left devastation for residents and business owners in its wake. A group of seven people from Roser Memorial Community Church traveled to the area Nov. 11 for a five-day trip to help bring help and hope to the area.
The group, including Rev. Neil Crowell, David Cheshire, Dan Luckenbill, Ruth Martin, Matt Meehan, Mike Pescitelli and Randy Swain drove in a caravan to Wewahitcha, Fla., in the Panhandle which served as their base camp. During the day, they traveled 20 miles to Mexico Beach to help with cleanup efforts and providing emotional support to residents still stunned by the magnitude of the storm.
Meehan said he’s been on three similar disaster relief trips, all sponsored by the church and Samaritan’s Purse, and this was “by far the worst” damage he’d encountered.
“It was total devastation,” he said, likening the visual experience to seeing the site of a meteorite crash.
“It was like a huge tornado had come in and just sat there,” Swain said. “What wasn’t torn up was completely moved.”
Luckenbill said he was “dumbfounded” by the damage to the area and the amount of need that exists in the Panhandle as residents try to work their way back to a semblance of normalcy.
“It’s catastrophic damage,” he said.
The group spent five days working 10 hours a day to help residents remove belongings from damaged structures, put tarps on roofs, tear out damaged drywall and listen as residents told their stories to relief workers. Volunteers also helped prepare meals for volunteers and the community, clean and direct residents to local relief resources.
“People just don’t know who to turn to,” Pescitelli said.
“Sometimes the homeowners just need someone to talk to,” Swain said. “The work will get done.”
In addition to helping bring hope to the storm’s victims with their presence and work, the group also helped residents locate assistance by way of supplies, food, clothing and other aide outside of government services. Meehan said this is the first disaster relief trip he’s been a part of where there were no FEMA trailers on the ground to provide temporary shelter. Pescitelli said most of the people he spoke with are staying with friends or family members located 50 miles or more away from their ruined homes and travel daily to help pick up the pieces of their lives. Some people in the area also are staying in tents.
“These people’s lives have just been darkened,” Swain said. “We wanted to help them see that God loves them enough to help them get their lives started again.”
The disaster relief group has turned into a formal ministry of the church in conjunction with Samaritan’s Purse. The team from Roser was just seven of more than 100 volunteers from across the country and Canada who came to the area to help out.
“It renews your hope for the citizens of this world,” Luckenbill said. “You just leave with a new energy, vigor and faith in humanity.”
“We support each other as much as we support the victims,” Meehan said, adding that despite having their own issues to deal with, each volunteer gave up a week of their time to join the group and help those in need.
Luckenbill said he believes there are three sections to the work that needs to be done with disaster relief missions – bring hope, love and joy to the people affected, help with the physical work and spread fellowship and volunteerism within the community and volunteers onsite.
Pescitelli said seeing the good work the group accomplished during the trip and the work that Samaritan’s Purse is doing to assist disaster victims has encouraged him to become more physically and financially involved in the relief efforts, something he hopes other people will do as well.
To see volunteer opportunities with Samaritan’s Purse or learn more about their disaster relief effort, visit their website.