Episcopalians donate, volunteer, travel to support communities hit hard by hurricanes

By David Paulsen
Posted Oct 19, 2022

[Episcopal News Service] Dioceses and congregations across The Episcopal Church have been active in recent weeks raising money to support those impacted by hurricanes in Florida and the Caribbean. Two congregations in the Diocese of Michigan have gone the extra mile – and then some.

The Rev. Tom Ferguson, a curate at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in the Detroit suburb of Wyandotte, has a condominium in Fort Myers, Florida, and was planning a trip there to repair damage from Hurricane Ian, which made landfall near Fort Myers on Sept. 28. Before leaving home, Ferguson reached out to St. Hilary’s Episcopal Church in Fort Myers to see what supplies the congregation might need to support communities there devastated by the storm.

Leaders at St. Hilary’s responded by sending Ferguson a list, including baby supplies, canned goods, paper products, batteries, tarps, socks and underwear, hygiene products and first-aid kids. St. Stephen’s and the nearby congregation of St. Michael’s and All Angels Episcopal Church in Lincoln Park, Michigan, shared the list with their parishioners, and the overwhelming response was enough to fill the back of Ferguson’s Ford Explorer with needed items, including a generator and over $300 in cash donations.

Ferguson and his daughter left Michigan on Oct. 9 and drove to Fort Myers, arriving on Oct. 11, and delivered the donations to St. Hilary’s. Many of the homes in the church’s Fort Myers neighborhood were flooded by Ian and will require extensive repairs, and damaged household items and debris remained on roadsides waiting to be hauled away.

“Who knows when the debris will be removed,” Ferguson said in an online diocesan article. “There are mountains of debris lining each side of the streets. The homes will require significant repair and will take a very long time.”

St. Hilary’s continues to work with the local Heights Community Center to receive food, water and other supplies and money and get them to people in need.

It’s just one many examples of Episcopalians stepping up, particularly by giving generously to relief funds, in response to the destruction caused last month by hurricanes Fiona and Ian.

Since Fiona made landfall in Puerto Rico on Sept. 18, Episcopalians there have brought relief and assistance to neighbors in need through church-affiliated programs. The diocese set up support centers in Mayagüez, Ponce, Trujillo Alto and Maricao where church volunteers distributed food and water.

Episcopal Relief & Development also has supported efforts in Puerto Rico, as well as in Episcopal and Anglican dioceses in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos.

Episcopalians churchwide are encouraged to give to Episcopal Relief & Development’s Hurricane Relief Fund, which also will assist communities in the Diocese of Southwest Florida that were hit hard by Hurricane Ian. At least 119 people died in the storm, with property damage estimated at over $50 billion dollars.

The Episcopal diocese reported damage to 24 out of 79 churches from Hurricane Ian, and it has established its own hurricane relief fund.

One of the Southwest Florida churches that is rebuilding after sustaining damaged from Ian is Trinity-by-the-Cove Episcopal Church. At the same time, the congregation is awarding $75,000 in grants on behalf of the diocese to support the work of 13 partner charities serving hurricane victims, according to the diocese.

Another congregation, All Souls Episcopal Church in Fort Myers, offered space in its parking lot for World Central Kitchen to serve up to 1,000 hot meals a day to residents in need.

Episcopal dioceses outside the path of the hurricanes also are rallying members to give money to relief efforts. West Texas David Reed issued a call to his diocese on Oct. 8 to contribute, and he asked, “that the victims of these two storms be remembered in your church’s prayers.”

The Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast, no stranger to tropical storms in southern Alabama and the Florida Panhandle, also has asked Episcopalians to give to Episcopal Relief & Development after Fiona and Ian. Other dioceses have made similar appeals, from the Diocese of Texas to the Diocese of New Hampshire.

And in the Jacksonville-based Diocese of Florida, an Oct. 11 email message called on Episcopalians to support “our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico and Southwest Florida” with donations to the dioceses or to Episcopal Relief & Development.

“We thank you for your support and welcome your prayers as we work to help both dioceses and their communities recover,” the Florida diocese’s message said.

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.