A small group can make a big difference. That’s what a dozen local residents found when they traveled from Westminster Church of the Brethren to Jacksonville, Florida, in late September for a week filled with hard work — but laughter, too — as they labored to rebuild three homes for families in need.
The website for Brethren Disaster Ministries speaks of the damage Floridians are still tackling as a result of Hurricane Irma, a category 4 storm that hit the Florida Keys in September 2017.
“In Jacksonville, Florida, the highest storm surge pushed the St. Johns River northward causing major flooding where the river narrowed right at the cities’ downtown. Water surges of this magnitude had not been seen since 1846 and were reportedly up to 5 feet in some homes,” the site says. “In Clay County, record high crests of the Black River caused over 575 homes to be destroyed or have major or minor damage.”
Pastor Glenn McCrickard of Westminster Church of the Brethren spoke of the destruction he saw on this, his fifth disaster relief trip.
“Even though [the hurricane] was two years ago, the build and repair work go on long after it’s no longer a major news story,” he said.
Brethren Disaster Ministries partnered with the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church to identify those in need, while Camp TEAMeffort supplied housing, in exchange for the team doing some work inside the camp.
Local volunteers McCrickard, Miller Davis, Ed Coker, Marilyn Ebaugh, David Braune, Judy Braune, Bruce Darsch, Bob Jarboe, David Miller, Kathy Miller, Laurie Miller and Debbie Noffsinger stayed for the duration, from Sept. 29 through Oct. 5.
Miller Davis organizes disaster relief trips for the church. He said he’s been working these trips for many years and already has a full team of 15 signed up for a September 2020 mission trip.
“The people we help really need it,” he said. “My faith statement says that I have the skills and the time to help and [I] need to do that. Plus, I like Ebaugh’s cooking! She is a wonderful cook and very creative in what she serves.”
Ebaugh prepared a daily breakfast for the group. She set out supplies for crew members to pack lunches before leaving for work and had a snack, and then dinner when they returned. This is her sixth disaster relief trip.
“I love to cook, especially for folks who enjoy eating, and this group enjoys a good meal,” she said.
Ebaugh said daily homecooked breakfasts are the way she likes to roll, with a snack waiting when they return from the worksite and a full homemade dinner in the evening with a meat, potatoes, at least one hot vegetable, plus a salad, bread and a sweet treat.
“I feel so blessed that I’ve never experienced anything even remotely resembling what the families in these communities have gone through,” she said of why she does it. “A week of volunteering is a small way to contribute to getting families back into their homes after a disaster.”
Throughout the week, David Braune and Coker worked on the roof of one home and installed new windows, while Miller Davis and Darsch fitted new plumbing. Others in the group helped with general cleanup, installing flooring and wall board, and painting on the first house and two others.
“The house I worked on had been damaged by flood waters, which we were told was up to the eves of the house,” Davis said. “One entire wall had been replaced. Most of the drywall had been hung, and painting was done by some of our crew the week we were there. Bruce and I were assigned reworking the plumbing in two bathrooms. Because of the age, supply and drain lines had to be relocated to accommodate the new tub and vanity in one bath and the shower and vanity in the second bathroom.”
McCrickard described how the homeowner was living in a trailer that had been constructed by joining two mobile classrooms together to sit on a foundation.
“One end of her house actually fell off,” he said. “And she was living in it until one of the agencies saw the situation and got her into a camper. She was extremely grateful to us and for every group that has come to help. She would walk over every day to see the progress. We laid laminate floor and got some painting done. When we left, they still needed to tile the bathroom and maybe do a little plumbing, but it was one step closer to her being back in her home.”
Each worker expressed a level of joy in being able to serve.
“For our church, it is a way of extending and sharing the love of Christ with those who are in a very vulnerable state, helping them move toward normalcy and toward getting their lives back on track,” McCrickard said.
“Not only do I feel good about making a difference for the homeowner, I enjoy working with our group,” he said.
“There is no better way to fellowship than with this group of volunteers,” she said. “One does not have to be a member of our church — or any church, for that matter — to volunteer. You’re incorporated as part of this volunteer family right away. You’re tired when the week is done, but you can’t wait for the next opportunity.”
Lois Szymanski has been a correspondent for the Carroll County Times for over 25 years. She lives in Westminster and is the author of 29 books for children including novels and picture books. Reach her at 443-293-7811 or LoisSzymanski@hotmail.com.