FL church helps post-tornado

North Lake Presbyterian Church in Lady Lake, Fla., is providing a unique response to the Feb. 2 tornadoes.

BY HEATHER MOYER | LADY LAKE, Fla. | February 13, 2007

North Lake Presbyterian Church in Lady Lake, Fla., is providing a unique response to the Feb. 2 tornadoes.

As many as 60 volunteers have joined forces at the request of Lady Lake city officials to conduct a "sifting ministry," said North Lake's senior pastor.

"At the Sunshine Mobile Home Park, people have just lost so many of their valuables," said the Rev. Denny Dennison of North Lake Presbyterian Church. "Things like gold, rings, collections and other valuables are lost. The police chief called me the other day to ask us to help out with this sifting ministry where we help them locate these items."

Dennison said the process is what it sounds like. Volunteers are assigned to an area where they then start looking and digging. "They're down on their knees doing it. We've found a lot, even one guy's stamp collection. He was so happy to find it because it had been a big part of his life."

He added that they've even found one resident's tax return that had been done and bundled up for the mail when the tornado hit. Dennison said those things may seem small, but they can mean a lot to the family - especially considering how life-altering the tornadoes have been for the hundreds whose homes were destroyed or severely damaged.

"It looks like you put a mobile home in a big blender and poured it out on the ground," he said.

Securing lost valuables is just one way the North Lake congregation has helped the affected families so far. The church served as an American Red Cross shelter in the immediate aftermath of the tornadoes, which killed 20 people and destroyed almost 1,000 homes across Lake, Volusia, Sumter and Seminole counties.

The church has seen generosity from beyond Florida pour in as well. Dennison has fielded calls from many churches offering volunteer chainsaw clean-up crews and other supplies. He hopes those wanting to help stay interested for some time considering how long the recovery will last.

"There's going to be a great need for small home repairs at some point. Tons of people in these (mobile home) parks did not have insurance or they couldn't get it, and that's been real hard. We're working one on one with some affected families."

Dennison added that he's in regular touch with the Central Florida Presbytery to coordinate resources and needs.

The members of Florida Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (FLVOAD) have been active since the tornadoes as well, coordinating their response via conference calls and meetings. Many agencies are providing volunteer clean up crews, while others are helping out with donation organization and distribution.

Still others are helping residents navigate the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) registration process. Lutheran Services Florida reported more than 150 volunteers active this past weekend to help residents apply for Small Business Administration services.

Agencies have also banded together to address the needs of migrant farm workers, noting that some workers may not come forward either due to language barriers, U.S. resident status, or both. County long-term recovery committees are also meeting, including the Lake and Sumter Emergency Recovery committee (LAKE) and Volusia Interfaith Interagency Networking in Disaster (VIND).

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist also announced the "Florida Disaster Recovery Fund," which was formerly the Florida Hurricane Relief Fund.

"Regardless of whether tragedy strikes in the form of a hurricane, tornado or other disaster, it is crucial for neighbors to help neighbors," said Crist in a news release. "Just as they have in the past, Floridians will help those in need."

Crist also recently commended the many relief agencies lending a hand to affected residents. At a volunteer appreciation event Monday, he cited the more than 6,340 volunteers recording over 174,783 hours of volunteer service doing work such as securing 640 roof tarps and serving 69,417 meals, among many other tasks.

Tornadoes also struck the Volusia County area on Christmas Day, destroying hundreds of homes and only securing a FEMA declaration this past Friday after appealing an initial federal rejection.

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Lutheran Services Florida

Florida Interfaith Networking in Disaster

Florida Disaster Recovery Fund


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