Service Is a Calling for Volunteers in Hurricane-Devastated Florida

December 10, 2018 • United States
Samaritan’s Purse volunteers in Panama City, Florida, pray before beginning their day of serving hurricane victims in Jesus’ Name.
Samaritan’s Purse volunteers in Panama City, Florida, pray before beginning their day of serving hurricane victims in Jesus’ Name.

Two months after Hurricane Michael, people have come from near and far to serve those around Panama City, Florida. The needs remain great.

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Volunteers present a Bible to homeowner Linda Kelley after repairing her home.

Volunteers present a Bible to homeowner Linda Kelley after repairing her home.

Hurricane Michael pummeled the Florida Panhandle two months ago today, yet in Panama City and other areas the effects of the storm are still being felt. Hundreds of people are living in tents. Large trees still lay on punctured roofs, allowing rain to pour into homes. A major employer has announced a plan to cut their staff in half to stay afloat.

Over the last eight weeks, hundreds of volunteers have served here with Samaritan’s Purse in Jesus’ Name following the storm, but more are desperately needed.

“The rest of the United States doesn’t understand the devastation that’s here,” said Sandy Markley, a Samaritan’s Purse volunteer who is a resident of Beloit, Wisconsin, and Winter Haven, Florida. She and her husband, John, had driven to Mexico Beach after the storm to view the devastation, but were turned around by authorities. Nevertheless, moved by what they witnessed and wanting to do something to help, they volunteered to serve with us in nearby Panama City.

Volunteer Erika Oetman clears brush from a Panama City yard.

Volunteer Erika Oetman clears brush from a Panama City yard.

Donna Quarls of Clifton, Texas, is also volunteering because “you feel so helpless sitting at home watching it on TV. You know you’d want someone to help you, and God calls us to serve those who need help.”

She plans to give the majority of her December to this task, but the decision did not come without hesitation. As she was praying about whether to go, she felt like she heard God say, “Donna, seriously, you’re worried about missing some Christmas parties and these people are living in tents.”

As Bob Yaeger of Evansville, Indiana, spent a week volunteering by removing debris from yards, he was moved to tears.

“It’s heartwarming to know that there are people who still care about other people,” he said. “It makes it much more rewarding when you see everybody working together for a common cause—to glorify Christ.”

“You know you’d want someone to help you, and God calls us to serve those who need help.”

Coming from Near and Far

Volunteers are coming from near and far to serve with Samaritan’s Purse for our Panama City response.

Adam Klanjak lives in Panama City and is a member of City Church at Northside, Samaritan’s Purse host church and base of operations in the area. Ceilings, floors, and sheet rock in his own home were damaged, but he is working to serve others in need as well.

“It’s basically being a helping hand wherever I can be. God’s called me to be his servant so I want to go and do.”

Michael Allison hauls debris from a homeowners yard.

Michael Allison hauls debris from a homeowners yard.

Another local, Rich Comer of Niceville, Florida—just 60 miles west of Panama City—came to serve on a Saturday morning with a team from his church. He explained that Niceville could easily have been in the storm’s path, but it turned away at just the right time.

“We were hunkered down waiting for the hurricane to hit—but for that turn, this would have been our town.”

His church is serving with Samaritan’s Purse because “we considered it our neighborly duty.”

Hailing from a much greater distance, Michael Allison flew in from Hanalei, Hawaii, to volunteer in Panama City. He came to follow Jesus’ command to love our neighbors, and he’s grateful for the opportunity to give back because Samaritan’s Purse served him on the North Shore of Kauai following the flooding there in April.

Students Volunteer, Too

A 12-member team from Landmark Christian School in Atlanta, Georgia, spent three days volunteering in Panama City as well. The eight high school students on the trip were grateful for the opportunity to serve despite the extra work required because of missing school.

Students from Landmark Christian School served devastated homeowners with a cheerful spirit.

Students from Landmark Christian School served devastated homeowners with a cheerful spirit.

Junior Jordan Fields said, “I’m excited to help people because they’re going through a hard time. It’s a joy to help people clean up.”

His fellow student, Paige Bridges, a freshman, said, “I thought it would [give me] a good and humbling perspective of what other people are going through.”

One of their chaperones, Fred Gilkeson, serves as head of the Christian life department at the school. He was motivated to have the students serve in Panama City, because three years ago Samaritan’s Purse responded to flooding in his family’s hometown of Greenbriar County, West Virginia.

He’s eager “to be able to introduce these kids to a life of serving” and notes how convenient it is to serve through Samaritan’s Purse U.S. Disaster Relief. The only cost to the school was getting to the site. Lodging and meals are covered for overnight volunteers.

Why Serve?

Panama City is the fourth location where retired Marine Mike Robinson of Providence Forge, Virginia, has deployed with us. He sees a connection between the camaraderie of the Marine Corps and Samaritan’s Purse. “It’s almost like a fraternity of Jesus lovers.”

Mike Robinson (in green) prays with his team of volunteers before starting a day of service with Samaritan’s Purse.

Mike Robinson (in green) prays with his team of volunteers before starting a day of service with Samaritan’s Purse.

After serving in Florida, Mike plans to travel to our Operation Christmas Child Processing Center in Baltimore/Washington to volunteer for a week as part of his personal effort to tithe his time. He figures since there are 52 weeks in a year, he wants to spend at least 10 percent of that—5 weeks—in service to the Lord.

Alex “Poncho” Garcia also serves with Samaritan’s Purse even though lung cancer took 63 percent of his right lung and 30 percent of his left lung.

To those considering volunteering in disaster relief, Alex said, “You need to do it one time just to see what a person goes through. The average person has no idea—they see it on the news and that’s it.”

Donna Quarls added, “As an older woman, you worry if you’re going to hack it or not, [but] there’s always something for every age.”

“Take the risk and get out of the comfort zone a little bit,” Bob Yaeger said, “and it will be totally rewarding.”

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Interested?

Both day and overnight volunteers for Hurricane Michael relief are being accepted at Panama City and Wewahitchka, Florida, as well as Albany, Georgia. Youth, ages 14-17, are now allowed to serve at all three sites (see details in note below). Volunteers must bring and wear work gloves, work boots, safety glasses, long pants, a hat, and sunscreen. Sign up at spvolunteer.org.

*Note: 14- or 15-year-old volunteers must be accompanied by a parent unless they are participating as part of a youth group. Also, 16- or 17-year-old volunteers must be accompanied by someone at least 21 years old.

Michael W. Smith joined volunteers on Friday, Dec. 7, and invited them to his nearby concert.

Michael W. Smith joined volunteers on Friday, Dec. 7, and invited them to his Christmas concert at a local church, which they attended that night.

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U.S. Disaster Relief Samaritan's Purse mobilizes and equips thousands of volunteers to provide emergency aid to U.S. victims of wildfires, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters. In the aftermath of major storms, we often stay behind to rebuild houses for people with nowhere else to turn for help.

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