Several of us visited St. Columba in Marathon to help out this weekend. We drove in a caravan so were able to stop and pick up needed items from our drop off points.  Please do ask if you can whether there are things ready that you can stop by take along since there will be ongoing, evolving collection of specific items and we need to keep clearing our limited storage areas.

The landscape all the way through the keys was shocking. We drove past thousands of refrigerators, washers, etc.  Your help is so gratefully accepted.  One of our workers who delivered a generator said the couple who received it broke down and cried. As power returns in Marathon, those precious resources will be reallocated to less fortunate flood zones.

Saint Columba Church is undamaged but its landscaping including its nature trail and its thrift shop which provides badly needed revenue were damaged by the storm.  Loving work has gone into addressing the situation, but much remains to be done.

They’ve gotten a very good response to their requested items list but some items are still needed and others need to be added as we move forward through the recovery continuum.

Many people are suffering from destroyed or damaged homes, and the church is an important source of strength, resources, and a bit of normalcy.

Our other Keys churches are affected as well.   Father Chris has been unable to get in to his house yet.  A group of boaters who took refuge at St. Columba and have helped clear its felled trees are going to try to help with getting access and assessment of needs within the next couple of days. More workers will be needed in these areas. We’ll let you know.

Rev. Debra is very helpful in matching workers with how they can best help in her area and others.  Just about any able bodied adult, even us 60-somethings, can be helpful. We took bedrolls and inflatable mattresses were able to “camp” comfortably in the church offices. St. Columba’s power is on, their water is approved, their ice machine has been cleaned out and is making fresh ice. While many restaurants and stores are closed, Publix is back to normal, and you can get some regular or fine dining in many places. Some still have to accept cash only, so take some along.

Some of the kinds of work in progress we worked on and which you can continue:
-Clearing the walkways around St. Columba to improve normalcy.
-Carrying branches and yard waste to the curb. That must all be done before FEMA support expires on October 10, thirty days after the storm, and much remains to be done.  Otherwise, the removal of the huge volume of damaged trees, palm fronds, etc. will be cost prohibitive.
-Rearranged the parish hall to move donated items areas to the outside so that there would be a convivial area for people to gather at coffee hour and also provide room for their children’s after school study program.  St. Columba’s normal study program space in Hammock House will be used to pinch hit for for the school district which cannot support its regular after school program at this time. St. Columba could use help running this interim program which starts Wednesday and is a critical support for working parents.
-We also worked on the kitchen and set up a Residence Inn type buffet area so people can come have some cereal or make a sandwich and enjoy a respite from all the work on the church grounds, at home, and at their businesses.
-Working with individuals who need help at home. You cannot solve their problems completely, but when they hit a wall, you can help put some wind back in their sails. My team assisted a widowed artist who’d had four feet of water in the back porch art studio part of her lovely home and 8 inches throughout.  Her challenge is immense.  We helped her prioritize, and worked on saving her art materials. Her beautiful rug, cabinetry, and wicker shelving units all have to be sacrificed to prevent mold infestation.  We called on some of the many young Mormon men working in the area to pull out the carpet and move a storage shed, and we cleaned out the shed and several garbage containers with covers to provide a dry place for her art materials so her cabinets and worker shelving units can be discarded.  That’s about all we could do in an afternoon, and she was exhausted after several hours of making tough decisions and getting started on the plan she and we developed together. She is but one of 11,000 homeowners impacted by Irma.
-Bringing some needed items, being there, worshiping together, and listening.  We have commonality in that we all boarded up, all feared losing our homes, and all watched anxiously to see whether  the storm would hit us. No one wants to suddenly become a refugee, but the Keys people are the ones who did.  Several of the musicians lost their homes, and our rector’s home was also badly damaged, but they still came in on Sunday and prayed and sang with everything they had. Our acknowledging that common experience with this frightening storm and letting them know that they drew the short straw with Irma but we know they’d do the same for us makes it easier to accept help. Most important is that they know they are not alone now, or in a week, or in three months; that we’ll keep updating our list, we’ll keep coming to help, and we’ll do whatever we can to help throughout this major recovery effort.


Maralee Pope