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'They all call it a miracle'

When Rev. Don Banks saw his friends were redeveloping a mobile home park, he asked what was going to be done with all the trailers.

BY HEATHER MOYER | SEMINOLE, Fla. | October 22, 2004

"Everybody can give something."

—Rev. Don Banks

When Rev. Don Banks saw that his friends were redeveloping a local mobile home park, he asked what was going to be done with all the trailers.

And that's how he landed close to 300 trailers to distribute both to hurricane-affected families and to churches for volunteer housing.

Banks is associate pastor of Chapel on the Hill United Church of Christ in Seminole, Fla. So far, 60 of the trailers have gone to the migrant farm worker community on Pine Island. Another 30 or so went to other families across the state. "All trailers are permanent, the families own them, they go directly to the people," said Banks.

Seeing the reaction of the families that receive the trailers has been a great experience, Banks added. "They all call it a miracle and can't believe people would just give the homes away. It's truly a blessing from the Lord."

Banks is normally a very busy guy, saying he does missions work at least once a week. So when four hurricanes ravaged Florida, he found even more work to be done. His previous relationships with numerous area faith-based and community non-profits assisted him in getting much needed help to the hurricane-ravaged families in Florida. The coalition of relief groups deserve extensive praise, Banks said, because they have done so much and they work together very well.

He added that he will continue to push people to give to the relief process. "I tell people to put themselves in the families' positions. I tell them to close their eyes and imagine losing everything they own, and people seem to understand that. Everybody can give something."

Even those who suffered damage themselves are giving. Another six of the donated trailers will go to churches in the hard hit cities of Wauchula, Arcadia, and Lake Wales so that volunteers will have a place to stay while working in the area.

Port Charlotte's Pilgrim United Church of Christ (UCC) is one of the volunteer churches. Hurricane Charley devastated the Port Charlotte area in early August, and then three other hurricanes brought further damage. Pilgrim UCC itself was damaged, yet still served as a major shelter and relief operations site for the community. So volunteering to house two of the trailers was just one more way they could help, said Pilgrim UCC pastor Matthew Neumann.

"We're really happy to do it. The church is here to serve."

Neumann said they expect to see the trailers in another couple of weeks, but volunteers group have already been staying at the church. "They're doing things like clearing and repairs. Things here look better than they did two months ago, but there's still much work to be done. There is stress and frustration among the families. Many are having to wait a long time to get roofers out here. There's a lot of hurry up and wait."

Banks echoed the frustrated families sentiment, explaining that the chaplains he works with do almost non-stop pastoral counseling around the state. He added that he is part of a group of pastors that meets regularly to pray and check in with each other.

The recovery process will be long in Florida, with Neumann expecting work in his area lasting for at least two years. Banks said he thinks it will go even longer than that, noting that some of the agencies he works with are still getting the occasional assistance call related to 1992's devastating Hurricane Andrew.

Fortunately, the local support is continuing. Banks' church began a hurricane foundation and starting this Monday, people can stop by any Wachovia Bank across the country and make a donation that goes directly to the relief foundation and the people they serve.

Through another company Banks' owns, Employee Corporate Care Systems, Inc., faith-based care for business employees is offered. Numerous businesses across the state have also volunteered to do hands-on relief work. "We have groups scheduled to volunteer every week," he explained. "I've been encouraging people to step out of their boundaries. It's beautiful to see the outreach."

And through it all, Banks wants no credit or praise, saying that is not the reason he does the work. "I don't like the praise, the glory should go to God. This is just the continuing effort that I'm called to do. And I'm doing it for Him. I don't need the recognition."

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