Following Irma work, I’m thankful for family

Walking into an area affected by disaster, you never know what to expect. There’s a lot of uncertainty, a lot you can’t control. In a way, you become like those you’ve come to help.

The one thing you can control is how you react to those in need. Our incident commander, Major Ernest Hull, New Orleans Area Commander, reminded us each day, “You represent the light of Jesus to these people. Be that light.”

We did our best to be a light serving in a county that lost power to over 80 percent of its homes and businesses following Hurricane Irma.

For me, every child who waited for something to eat and drink at one of our trucks reminded me why I’m here. One resident told me how during the day you try to find shade to keep cool, but at night, you still have to sleep in a hot house. The rain was gone and the temperature was up near 90 each day.

Driving into one community followed by a canteen, I saw folks outside and rolled down my window.  A little boy, Mason, age 5 or 6, comes running up, “You guys are beautiful!”, he exclaims. I couldn’t have been more caught off guard. I had to get his picture. Mason was grateful for the food we were able to provide him, his father, and grandparents.

The next day, two little girls, maybe 10 and 6, I never asked their names. Our team handed them their food, and they sat down on the sidewalk to eat. I snapped a picture… smiling and thankful.

These eight days were made better by those smiling faces, and easier because of the people I work alongside in service to those in need.

In disaster situations, your team becomes your family. The commander becomes the father. On our team, Major Mary Meredith was the mother or “Mother Mary” as she was quickly nicknamed.

There were brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles even distant cousins from far-away places like Pennsylvania and Connecticut working out in the canteens. The longer we were there the more people were added, the crazier our family became…in a good way. All toll, we had officers, staff, and volunteers from Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Kentucky, Tennessee, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut!

There were arguments, laughter, teasing and even concern as several “family” members were injured or became sick.

One of our emotional and spiritual care “sisters” even brought two residents, a father and daughter, to know Jesus as their personal savior.

At the end of the day, we seemed to always eat dinner together and tell stories or discuss our work.

I know not every disaster team is like this, but we seemed to be chosen to be together, to serve a purpose none of us could have served on our own.

The week we served in Sebring, Florida, The Salvation Army provided over 20,000 meals, drinks, and snacks, prayed with 410 people, and loaded 4,100 cases of water into vehicles.

I am thankful this family could be there.

Paychecks running out with many businesses still closed days after Irma, Army filling need

Sebring, FL. –In Highlands County, Florida, power is slowing being restored but for many it’s been five days in the sweltering heat with no air conditioning, no water and no ice. As if that wasn’t enough, many businesses have not reopened and hourly workers have no new income.

Melissa Gage is one of those workers.

“Out of power since Sunday, it just seems like it keeps getting hotter,” said Gage. “My paycheck ran out so we are here for a meal and some water.

Gage picked up six hot meals for her family just like several hundred other local residents in and around Sebring. The Salvation Army will top ten thousand meals served in Highlands County on their fifth day of service.

Ashley Ivey and her husband have two young girls. It’s been hard for them as well without power.

“They told us it would be Tuesday by midnight(for power to be restored),” said Ivey. “But our daughters have suffered heat exhaustion, they’re allergic to mosquitos too so it’s difficult right now.

Ivey said she explained to her daughters about the storm that, “this is what happens when you live in Florida.”

For many, the sooner the power can be restored, the better. The Salvation Army will remain in place to fill any needs for several days once the power does return.

22 workers from 6 states in Sebring, Florida with One Goal…Bringing Hope

Sebring, FL – Hectic doesn’t begin to describe the last three weeks for The Salvation Army across the southern United States. Two major hurricanes in Harvey and Irma, and potentially a third in Maria. Canteen crews, staff, volunteers and equipment from all over the country have converged on Texas and Florida, and will for the forseeable future. That makes for some pretty interesting staffing situations.

Like here in Sebring, Florida, officers, staff and volunteers from Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee and Florida are working side by side to prepare and distribute thousands of meals and drinks each day.

“I think it’s great,” said Victor Rutledge, who manages the Kentucky-Tennessee Division’s summer camp, Camp Paradise Valley. “To work with folks from other areas, connect with them, that’s the neat part of this.”

With this assignment, Rutledge ran into now McComb, Mississippi Corps Officer, Lieutenant Thomas Marion. Rutledge served as Marion’s summer camp counselor several years ago. They haven’t seen each other in eight years. Lieutenant Marion says the combination of staff from across the South and the country doesn’t have that big of an effect of the operation.

“We are all here for the same goal. It doesn’t matter where they’re from. It’s fun hearing the different accents,” said Lieutenant Marion.

In Sebring, first time disaster volunteer, Laderious Dowell from Memphis, Tennessee is working side by side with experienced veteran, Ronnie Cicchitto from Tampa, Florida who is serving meals from a mobile feeding truck in his forth disaster.

“We all work good together,” said Cicchitto. “Everyone helping the residents in ways only The Salvation Army can.”

The way the people feel when they see how much we care, they were saying we are the only people who do care for them,” said Dowell.

In the four days of service since the team has arrived in Sebring, Florida, nearly ten thousand meals have been served to Highlands County.

The Salvation Army establishing feeding services for Highlands County, Florida following Irma

Sebring, FL  – With Hurricane Irma damage still obvious all across the area, The Salvation Army is working in Highlands County, Florida to meet the immediate needs of residents still without power days after the storm. Water, ice, and a hot meal are all priorities.

“We do have some challenges right now, but we have three feeding trucks at our disposal and those will be out in the county beginning Wednesday,” said Major Ernest Hull, Incident Commander.

The incident command team lead by Major Hull from New Orleans is from the Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi Division and the Kentucky-Tennessee Division.

Sebring Corps Officer, Major Tim Roberts has seen the damage and is helping identify the subdivisions who need a meal, a bottle of water, or just someone who can help.

“We know folks are hurting that’s why we have these crews in town,” said Major Roberts. “The Salvation Army will be here as long as it takes to get things back to normal.

Emotional and Spiritual Care officers will be accompanying mobile feeding trucks to offer encouragement, a pat on the back or a hug.

“We want to minister to the physical needs, but also the spiritual ones, because living without power after you’ve lost so much can be difficult,” said Major Hull. “We want them to know they are not alone in their recovery.”

The Salvation Army will be providing meals at the Sebring Corps location at 3135 Kenilworth Boulevard. Staff will also be assessing damage in Avon Park and Lake Placid to determine feeding locations in those areas.

How People Can Help

The best way to help after a disaster is to make a financial donation. Monetary contributions also support local economies and ensure that businesses can operate when relief supplies diminish.


Donate By Phone: 1-800-SAL-ARMY

Mail Checks to:

The Salvation Army PO Box 1959 Atlanta, GA 30301

Please designate “Hurricane Harvey” on all checks.

Text to Give: STORM to 51555