When Holston Conference churches offered to help Florida communities recover from Hurricane Ian, they weren’t kidding. When the requests finally came from Florida churches last week, Holston pastors made not one, but three road trips south to get supplies to people dealing with the havoc left behind after the deadly Category 4 storm.
On Friday, Oct. 7, the Rev. Harry Howe and the Rev. Mike Sluder delivered 596 flood buckets full of cleaning supplies from Holston’s stockpile in Marion, Virginia, to a relief center in Ellenton, Florida.
On Saturday, Oct. 8, the Rev. Susan Arnold and Mike Arnold delivered Styrofoam food containers – as much as they could stuff into a rented Jeep Wrangler -- to Ocala, Florida. Then they went back home, and Susan Arnold returned again to Ocala on Oct. 10 with the remainder of the 7,400 containers collected by Three Rivers District church members.
“Because of the dedication of the folks in Holston, we were and are able to respond quickly when we get a call,” said Howe, director of Project Crossroads in Marion.
Howe and Sluder learned last week that United Methodists working in Ellenton were in need of flood buckets (also known as “cleaning kits”) to help Manatee County residents and others experiencing flood damage related to the Sept. 28 hurricane. The pastors delivered buckets collected by Holston churches to the former Ellenton United Methodist Church building (closed in 2021), where relief efforts are ongoing.
The Rev. Pam Carter, Bishop Ken Carter’s wife, made a video thanking Holston members for their help. (See below.)
“We are awaiting word from the Florida Conference when they will need more,” said Sluder, Holston connectional ministries director. “Because of the generosity of Holston, we still have as many as we delivered on hand when they are ready for more. We will keep some here to respond in case we, or another area, has need of them.”
Howe urged Holston churches to continue assembling cleaning kits (flood buckets) as well as hygiene kits – while working with their district offices on delivery locations. “The need is ongoing for cleaning buckets and hygiene kits so we will have plenty in stock and ready to deliver [for future disasters],” he said.
Last week, Arnold was preparing for a trip to Florida for her doctor of ministry cohort meeting, when she thought of asking the pastor of a large United Methodist church in Cape Coral if anything was needed to help local hurricane survivors.
The Rev. Jorge Acevedo, lead pastor of Grace Church, said they needed Styrofoam containers to continue feeding hundreds of people without power twice a day. “How many?” Arnold asked. “As much as you can send,” Acevedo said.
Arnold shared the request with Betty Yeomans-Barton, Three Rivers District administrative assistant, and an email request went out to churches in the Johnson City region on Tuesday, Oct. 4.
Two days later, the district office was stacked with Styrofoam containers.
“At a time when our conversations are not necessarily about the hope of our connectionalism, it was beautiful to see the hope and abundance and generosity poured out from our churches,” said Arnold, Holston director of congregational development. “It was God-sized generosity, and it was from churches of all sizes.”
Yeomans-Barton said the supplies were quickly contributed by about 10 churches and several individuals. “A member from First United Methodist Church in Mountain City actually had containers shipped directly to Florida, since it is over an hour drive to the district office,” she said.
Centenary United Methodist Church was in the middle of preparing for their town apple festival in Erwin, Tennessee, but still wanted to help. They ordered two cases of food containers from a Johnson City store and had them delivered to the district office.
“When such a disaster happens, people are searching for a way to help,” Yeomans-Barton explained. “Thoughts, prayers and monetary donations are great, but folks want to feel they are providing for a tangible and specific need.”
It was obvious that Arnold’s car wasn’t big enough to carry all the containers to Florida, Yeomans-Barton said. After some brainstorming, Arnold and her husband, Mike, decided to rent a bigger vehicle and make not one, but two trips to Florida, 10 hours each way.
The containers are now at St. Mark United Methodist Church in Ocala, where Arnold is meeting and learning with fellow students. When Acevedo finishes leading classes on Thursday (Oct. 13), he’ll transport the food containers sent by Holston Conference the final 220 miles south to Cape Coral.
How to make cleaning kits (flood buckets)
How to make hygiene kits
Give money to UMCOR
Sign up for a free weekly subscription to The Call. Holston Conference includes 842 United Methodist congregations in East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, and North Georgia. Holston Conference's main offices are located in Alcoa, Tennessee.
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newsletter.
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