For the past year, members of the First United Methodist Church have been hammering away at disaster manuals and training sessions.
Now, the 14 members of the church’s new Emergency Response Team are ready for field work.
The ERT will leave for its first mission April 19, for Live Oak, an area that experienced devastating floods from Tropical Storm Debby last year. Now that the cleanup has been completed, the local team has been invited to help rebuild.
“We are so excited,” mission organizer Paula Sedita said. “We want to do God’s work with our hands and feet.”
The group members range from diverse backgrounds. One is a reverend, another a chemist. Several of them have building and repair experience. Jeremy Rhodes, owner of Plant City Handyman, is this trip’s team leader.
“He has a real passion for helping,” Sedita said. “He is such a big member and has a lot of knowledge.”
It was that same type of passion that kickstarted the idea for a church ERT in 2005. A small group from the church traveled to Biloxi to aid in the Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.
When those volunteers returned, Sedita began planning to launch a formal ERT team. Since March 2012, the ERT members have been learning the skills they need to lend a helping hand. All team members have undergone basic training to earn accreditation for long-term relief efforts. Ten members also received early-response training, which included a two-day, hands-on experience in a devastated area.
In addition to the physical work, one team member also has trained to provide spiritual counseling. Sedita said she also will complete counseling training before leaving for Live Oak.
Although Live Oak is its first mission out of the area, the team already has provided relief locally. The team helped to repair a leaking roof and clean a mold infestation at Bread of Life Missions.
In the weeks leading up to their Live Oak mission, team members prepared their necessary supplies. They cooked and froze spaghetti and breakfast casseroles for meals.
“This will be a good, dry run to see in a less stressful situation how the team works together and what we can improve on,” Sedita said. “It’s exciting to think of helping them put the pieces back together. We want to help them find the normal they had before the storm. It won’t be the same normal. It will be a new normal.”
Contact Amber Jurgensen at email@example.com.
HOW TO HELP
The Emergency Response Team also has started a drive for clean-up buckets.
The team always could use new members. Membership is open to all denominations.
For more information or to make a donation, call the church office, (813) 754-3519.
The Rev. Earl Smith