Amigos Center

Posts Tagged: Hurricane Irma

 

        As we all get back into the norms of life, we all have time and peace of mind to look back over the past few weeks.  Before the storm there was a roller coaster of uncertainty. Early in the week, it looked like Southwest Florida was in the dead center of the dreaded “cone”.  As the week progressed, the “cone” shifted east, and we breathed a sigh of relief, but continued to prepare, just in case.  Then the realization that the storm was shifting west again, and had the potential to pass just off our coast, resulting in wind damage, but also catastrophic storm surge.  We watched with incredulous horror as this huge storm of historic proportions decimated several Caribbean islands, including St. Martin. The images coming from those islands were heartbreaking, and we worried:  would Irma do the same to OUR home?

        Like many of you, our family scrambled to prepare our home and property.  As the week progressed, we became more and more concerned, as there was NO plywood to be had anywhere, and we worried about several vulnerable windows.  We prepared as well as we could:  trimming bushes and trees and securing anything that could not be brought inside.  All the while, there was an overlying worry: how were we going to protect our windows?  However, God, in His power and goodness, was at work.  On Friday evening before the storm we still had no plywood for our windows, but around 7pm, there was a knock on the door, and there was one of our neighbors, offering several sheets of his leftover plywood.  Another neighbor had another extra sheet of plywood as well.

Thanks be to God!  On Saturday, we boarded up what we could, and tried to get everything ready to ride out the storm.  We kept a close eye on storm surge predictions, and when the worst-case scenario had our area under 6 FEET of water, we decided that it would be safer to evacuate.  That left us with a dilemma, since it was such a last-minute decision. Should we just go to Immokalee? Or north toward Orlando? Or to the east side of the state? We worried about traffic jams and lack of gasoline if we tried to go too far. Once again, God provided. After some online searching and some phone calls, we were able to locate a hotel room in Fort Lauderdale. We arrived at the hotel just as the weather was starting to turn ugly, and then learned that they had been booked for weeks. A room opened up, literally as we were looking.

      Later, someone commented that we picked a good hotel because it is a hurricane rated building.  I told them I didn’t pick it; it was the only one available.  It was a surreal experience, sitting in a hotel room with no power, and a tropical storm raging outside the window, while we streamed the live news on our phones and watched the eye of the storm pass right over our neighborhood.  We prayed, (a lot!) and took comfort in God’s promises:

        Psalm 46:1-3,  “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.”

        As we left our house on Saturday afternoon, we honestly did not know what, if anything, we would be returning to.  We tried to trust in God, and at the same time be mentally prepared for the possibility of losing our house and everything in it.  When our neighbor texted us, during the eye of the storm, to let us know that our house was standing, with only minor damage, we wept with relief and thanked God for His protection.  We returned on Monday after the storm to find a big tree down in our yard, some damage to the roof, but overall, our house was fine.

 

On Tuesday, I went out to Immokalee to check on members of the church, and the Amigo Center’s staff and volunteers. Thanks be to God: no one was hurt.  Yes, they had damage their homes: to porches, siding and screen rooms but everyone was ok.  The next day, Wednesday, Harry Chapin Food Bank sent a truck to Immokalee with water and MREs.  After almost 200 families were served, Collier County workers arrived with a truck filled with water and more food.  By the end of Saturday, one week after the storm, about 1,000 families were given food or a hot meal through the Red Cross in our parking lot.  Time and time again, people told us that they had damage to their homes or yards, but invariably, they were thankful that they were safe; that their lives had been spared.

 

The next week, the volunteers worked every day, serving over 300 families per day. In addition, 1,000 hot meals were served through Friday. I received an almost constant stream of phone calls and text messages from all over the country, offering donations of food, clothing and supplies.  Once again, God was at work through many people, making His love and grace known.   On Sunday after worship, a family arrived with a van filled with clothing, food, and personal hygiene supplies. A short time later, a semi arrived from

Michigan, filled with donated water and diapers.  With the help of a forklift, (and driver), graciously loaned to us by Grass Roots Kitchen, pallet after pallet was unloaded from the semi trailer and dropped in the parking lot. Then came the work of transferring everything into the Amigos Center lobby.  In case you’re wondering, a pallet of bottled water is HEAVY, even with the help of a pallet jack!  Thanks to the help of many volunteers who were willing to do a fair amount of heavy lifting, we were able to move all of the donated goods into the Center.

 

Our volunteers have worked hard, organizing the donated supplies and helping with distribution to hundreds of people. We are continuing twice weekly food distributions throughout the month of October. However, we are also focusing on church members and community members who have had severe damage to their homes; many have been deemed uninhabitable, and others have significant damage to the structure or contents.  Some homes sustained flood damage, and others had water damage to the interior and contents because of roof leaks or broken windows.  I have been working on identifying needs and locating assistance for these families.

 

        As I look back over the past month, I am humbled and awed by the many demonstrations of God’s grace and power.  Of course, there is the obvious; the storm itself, an awesome and terrible display of God’s power in nature.  God’s providence has been shown in abundance, before, during and after the storm, in answered prayers, in neighbors helping neighbors, and in the generosity shown by so many people.  God truly is good, and His power is made perfect in weakness as He says.  We were all “weak” in the days after the storm; no electricity, limited or no cell service, no internet, wondering how we were going to ever get our lives back to normal. But time and time again, God provides.  Thanks be to God!

What a good and gracious God we have, even in the midst of the recent storms! This is the God of whom the Psalmist sang, “made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed” Ps. 107:25. Hurricane Irma is history, but her effects will be long felt.

Here is just a little insight as to the effects Irma has had on the Amigos Center and Southwest Florida.

Bonita Springs Amigos Center office damage

Sad to say, we did not fair too well at the Amigos Center in Bonita Springs. It is now wet, moldy and in need of rehab before it can open again.  We put two tarps over it to mitigate any further rain damage and packed most things up in preparation for a move to another facility.   We still need to remove the wet carpets and ceiling tiles. Thankfully, all of the electronics at this facility are still in good working order.  The building now has electricity, but no telephone/internet.

I don’t know yet where we will be able to reopen, however, Lyndsay and Evelyn have returned to work this past Monday. They expect to begin seeing clients sometime next week.  This is important as the DACA renewals must be done by October 5, so it is urgent that we reopen in some temporary place ASAP.

Our Amigos Center in Fort Myers was infested with mold, due to the recent weather. Property Restoration was working to address these problems and now we are functioning normally at this facility.

Our Amigos Center in Immokalee weathered the storm well.  Pastor Selle and his family stayed there during the hurricane.  Electricity has finally been restored and there are some new leaks in the roof.  No other damage to building itself.

Pastor Selle and his family waiting out the storm in Immokalee

However, one tree fell and broke one of our outdoor light poles and smashed the fence.  Karl and volunteers opened this past Wednesday morning to allow Harry Chapin to distribute water, ice and MREs for those in and around Immokalee who were in need.  They have opened several times in order to assist further.

We have lots of people calling and wanting to donate items and are offering to help.  We are asking them to call Karl. Starting next week we will put Tulisha, one of our key volunteers, at 20 hours a week to handle food distributions. That will allow Karl to focus on lining up work projects for Immokalee families who suffered damage to their homes.

Damage to one of our church member’s house in Bonita Springs

We will hold our regular worship services this Sunday.

Our personnel weathered the storm, but like many here in Southwest Florida, have damage in one form or another. One of our legal assistance, Evelyn, lost a portion of her trailer home in Rosemary Park. Also, our attorneys Lyndsay and Christina, experienced some water damage at their respective homes. Karl is still dealing with clearing his house from storm damage and Seth is dealing with downed trees and recently had power restored. Pastor Andre and Pastor Saint Luc suffered some damage to their homes as well, but are continuing to serve their roles at the Amigos Center.

LCMS Disaster Relief dropped off at Zion Lutheran Church Fort Myers

By the grace of God, we are receiving some significant help from LCMS Disaster Relief.  We are working on a $25K grant for relief work, as they already gave us $3,500 in VISA gift cards, which we have already begun distributing to those in need.  More financial help is available upon request.  This past Thursday, the LCMS Disaster Relief dropped off a semi-truck load of supplies at Zion Lutheran (diapers, tools, generators, tarps, etc.)  We used some of it for the Bonita Springs Amigos Center. They are stationing two point people at Zion Lutheran in Fort Myers to help coordinate needed relief supplies.

Volunteer work crews are already here with more to arrive next week.

Thanks be to God for his mercy endures forever.

Now is a great time to gather and rejoice in how our gracious God held us safely through the storm. Even if you, like so many others, had some damages from the wind and water, all of the material things can be replaced, but God alone preserves life! You may have been without electricity, but you have had power all along with Jesus by your side!

If you feel you want to give of your time, talents, or treasures for recovery efforts, please contact Karl Glander at (239) 293-1489 or follow the prompt below to donate.




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