Hurricane Michael made landfall in the Florida Panhandle on Oct. 10, 2018, as a high-ended Category 4 Hurricane, causing catastrophic damage to the Panama City, Mexico Beach and Cape San Blas areas. Since that time, the news cycles have moved onto other events and the people in the Panhandle have felt forgotten.
In an article by the AP’s Mike Schneider, homeless numbers in Panama City area are up around 7,800 according to local officials. The homeless number includes at least 4,700 homeless students. This area is still in need of assistance, and many different organizations have been in the area helping in this disaster response, to include Samaritan’s Purse, Mercy Chefs, and many more. Along with outside organizations helping those affected by the storm, there have been local churches that have stepped in to help their neighbors. Most of the local churches sustained damage to their structures, but they are making the most out of what they have.
One such church is the Springfield Community Church. The church sustained heavy damage to their fellowship hall and youth chapel, and in the days and weeks following the hurricane landfall they pulled together to feed local residents. Every Thursday and Friday vehicles line up in the early morning to receive much-needed boxes of food. Springfield Community Church Pastor Eddie Pitts said that it started on day two following the hurricane.
“Then we began to cook, and we were feeding 200-1500 people a day for a long time. And then we were getting short on volunteers, so we decided to stop cooking and start distributing food.”
The church took their damaged portion of their building and converted it into a distribution center. The church puts together food boxes and distributes them on Thursday and Friday. They ask each car how many people are in their family and they use a math formula to determine how much food to give each family. They give an average of 410 boxes of food every week.
The estimated number of people being helped with 410 boxes of food is around 1,400 per week that are being fed. While this church receives some donations from Convoy of Hope and Feeding the Gulf Coast and other local sources they are still in need of donations.
When asked what their biggest need is, Pastor Pitts said, “Canned goods. We are out of canned goods. We receive meats, fresh produce, bread and milk, and things like that we are able to give out – but we need canned goods.”
Longtime church member Donna Dickerson has interaction with those seeking help every week. As her husband Kenneth, one of many volunteers at the church, helps load the food into the vehicles, she gets to hear their stories and prays with them.
Dickerson said, “They are so broken and need more than we can give. Several of us have held up the line to take a moment to pray for them. All who are waiting in line do not complain. It feels as if God sends a spirit of peace and comfort even to those waiting in their cars, In fact, I know He does.” He added:
I want to thank all of the first responders, and all of those who have volunteered to help in any way. Samaritan’s Purse, is my number one thank you. They have done so much for this area, along with myself and some of my family. We can not thank them enough. We could not have done this without them. And also I want to thank the good Lord above for providing the supplies to help these needy people. I see faces everyday that are hurting, some still don’t have any electricity. It’s a very sad situation, but now I am seeing smiles when they come up here, and everybody, all of them, are so thankful.
The need is still so very great. As long as God’s provides this place with these supplies, we will still keep giving it out. And I just thank God for the opportunity, and I don’t know what’s ahead, but He does.
April Reely, from Panama City, who was waiting in line said “I think it’s wonderful that the church donates their time and helps us out, and they work really hard out here in the sun.” When asked about her experience during Hurricane Michael, Reely said, “I have never been through anything like this before, never, and don’t want to go through it again. So, every time I hear the wind blow, I am scared.”
“I come often,” said Reely. “I helps out a great deal. I lost my job of course because of the hurricane. It (the hurricane) also has pulled us together. I was devastated,” said Reely when speaking about the aftermath of the storm. “I couldn’t do nothing, and then people just came out from everywhere, from the whole world, and it just made me cry, it just changes your heart.”
When asked about the impact of this ministry on his community, Pastor Pitts said, “We have been able to see the fruits of this. We’ve actually had five to give their hearts to Jesus in the line out there, and healing’s out there. We’ve had people ask for pray on Thursday and come back Friday just for prayer. I have learned, and I will say that this (food distribution) will eventually shut itself down because there will be no product, Don’t get me wrong. I know there are other disasters. I know there is flooding and I know there is fires, I know there are tornadoes. There’s a lot of victims, but yet we still remain victims, we still need help.”
If you or your church or organization are willing to help and want to make donations you can contact the Springfield Community Church 850-785-4097, and the church’s website is www.springfieldcommunitychurch.net Other items needed are personal hygiene and disinfectant/cleaning supplies. (They are not in need of clothing items.)