“What can I do to help?” people ask after natural disasters. The question became more pertinent for me after dodging Hurricane Irma as it made its way toward Sarasota, Fla., where I live. Thankfully, the storm brushed by us with minimal impact. Others weren’t as fortunate. Further south, in the Fort Myers area, damage was more extensive.
Several days after Irma’s passage here, I met a friend, Phil Helmuth, who was in Florida with an assessment team from Mennonite Disaster Service. I felt relief knowing that despite MDS teams active in Texas, MDS was also in Florida to determine how to help. Within a few days MDS volunteers were in the Fort Myers area, clearing trees and placing tarps over houses with damaged roofs.
Hearing of MDS and other volunteers hard at work, we might wonder if there are ways for the rest of us to help. Here are three needs to consider:
Arca de Salvacion: This Mennonite congregation in Fort Myers has been at the forefront, helping people impacted by Irma. When church members and others had no place to shelter from the storm, the church opened its doors to welcome more than 175 people to stay there. After the storm the congregation once again responded and is housing MDS volunteers.
Visiting the church recently, I saw Sunday school rooms turned into dormitories and members of the congregation, along with Cape Christian Fellowship in Port Charlotte, Fla., providing meals. The pastor, Marcial Domingo, said, “It’s a blessing and honor to serve MDS volunteers.”
This immigrant congregation’s generosity is inspiring. Faced with several air conditioners not functioning properly and one not functioning at all, the congregation still opened its doors to help those in need. Pastor Marcial expressed appreciation for support and asked that people visit and pray for their ministry. “We will be OK,” he said.
Academia Menonita Betania: A member of Mennonite Schools Council, this K-12 school in Puerto Rico has been a vital part of the Aibonito and Mennonite community for many years. It has served as a training ground for a number of Mennonite leaders. It’s important that the school is rebuilt so it can continue to be a ministry to the community it serves.
Mennonite Disaster Service: Of the many disaster relief organizations, few have the impeccable reputation of MDS. Administrative overhead is 11.7 percent, underscoring the wise use of donated dollars. Already involved with two mainland hurricanes, MDS is mobilizing to respond to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Larry Stoner, regional operations coordinator, was on the island as soon as commercial air service was restored. He connected with the MDS Puerto Rico Unit and its churches, assessing damage and planning response.
Contributions can be made in the following ways:
- Checks payable to Arca de Salvacion can be designated for church operations or the air conditioning fund and mailed to 3629 Michigan Ave., Fort Myers, FL 33916
- Checks payable to Mennonite Education Agency can be designated for Academia Menonita Betania and mailed to 3145 Benham Ave., Suite 2, Elkhart, IN 46517.
- Donations and volunteer signup for Mennonite Disaster Service can be done online at mds.mennonite.net or mailed to 583 Airport Road, Lititz, PA 17543.
JB Miller lives in Sarasota, Fla., and attends Covenant Mennonite Fellowship.