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Volunteer housing set for FL

A "volunteer village" to house teams helping people affected by the Feb. 2 tornadoes in central Florida is expected to be opened soon by Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.

BY HEATHER MOYER | LADY LAKE, Fla. | March 9, 2007


"This tornado - it was like somebody took a weed-eater with a half-mile string on it and just went through and cleared."

—Rev. Dan Jones


A "volunteer village" to house teams helping people affected by the Feb. 2 tornadoes in central Florida is expected to be opened soon by Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.

The village, scheduled to open by April 1, will be able to house 60 to 90 volunteers.

The housing idea grew out of discussions between the Central Florida Presbytery and Volusia Interfaith Interagency Networking in Disaster (VIND) and Lake and Sumter County Emergency Response (LASER).

"As we were talking about needs . . . we identified that there would be a need for a village," said Paige McRight, executive presbyter for the Central Florida Presbytery.

McRight said the village would remain for as long as needed to help people recover from the deadly Groundhog Day tornadoes, which destroyed hundreds of homes in Lake, Sumter and Volusia counties. The village will be on the property of the Duvall Presbyterian Home in the Volusia County town of Glenwood.

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance will coordinate reservations and incoming work teams from churches throughout Florida and the U.S.

McRight said her office has already fielded numerous telephone calls from churches wanting to send volunteer teams to the area to help. The churches in the Central Florida Presbytery have been very generous, she added.

"At least a quarter of the churches in the presbytery are wanting to help," she said. "Many have taken up offerings, too, and we've had at least $50,000 raised by these churches thus far."

She credits the 2004 hurricane season for the generosity and the urge to help.

"That sensitized people to the need to help so that when a disaster strikes, they're ready to go," she said.

Presbyterian churches near the path of the tornadoes also helped affected residents by serving as shelters and feeding people. She said other churches have sent in work teams to help with debris removal.

Faith groups and community agencies across the hard-hit counties continue to shift their response from immediate to long-term. Long-term recovery committees, such as VIND and LASER, are meeting and coordinating resources. The United Methodist Committee on Relief is working through the Florida Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. The conference's Storm Recovery Center was helping run case-management training for the committees and also assisting with case intake.

Responding agencies continue to cite the Lake County communities of Lady Lake and Lake Mack as areas that will require significant help due to low-income families there with little or no insurance. There are also numerous migrant workers in the area, and immigration status and language barriers continue to be a concern.

The Rev. Dan Jones said the communities were pulling together because of close-knit friendships.

"If (those affected) weren't members of our churches, they were friends of our members," said Jones, disaster response coordinator for the North Central Florida District of the United Methodist Church.

Jones lauded the work done by his district's churches in meeting needs.

"I know for sure that I have coordinated people and/or supplies from at least 30 churches," he said. "They've done a wonderful job of responding to calls for certain things when we've needed them."

Jones said that due to the widespread damage, he was encouraging the churches as well as the public to continue to offer help for the long-term.

"This tornado -- it was like somebody took a weed-eater with a half-mile string on it and just went through and cleared," he said.

Jones said he was also keeping an eye on pastors within the affected areas, making sure to listen when needed and offer further counseling if necessary.

The storm has provided an opportunity for Jones to encourage other district churches to create their own disaster plans. Mitigation and resource tracking will help in future disasters, he said.

"We're asking them what skill sets they have so we know who to call when we do have a need," he said.


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Related Links:

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance

Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church

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