Right about the time my running shoes logged mile 12 on Monday the 3rd of October, I met Dave. He was hard to spot, hidden at the end of the carport and screened from easy view by a pile of cherished belongings that had been destroyed by Hurricane Ian. (Out of respect for Dave, and the others I met, I will only show photos of our volunteers and staff.)
As part of a Salvation Army disaster team, we were improvising as fast as the incident commander could come up with new ideas. I’ll get back to Dave in a minute, but the background is vital.
Maria Ramos: she’s the great wheel around which my volunteer work revolves. One amazing lady.
I’ve been a volunteer for the Salvation Army since I moved to Florida. As Santa, I got to hand out the toys when they partnered with the Toys For Tots program. I’d started my Santa journey decades ago with the Marines as their Santa and it grew from there. In Minnesota, I’d worked with, but never for, the Salvation Army on a lot of projects with Toys For Tots and other charities, and had great respect for all that they do. So, here in Florida, I got to meet the leadership of the local Corps (Salvation Army) as Santa. When Ian hit, I contacted my friend Maria Ramos and left messages that I wanted to help.
Help is always in short supply after a disaster. People are pretty good about chucking some money in a kettle, or clicking the button and donating on the website but often forget that the way the meals get out, the elderly get a knock on the window to check on them, and the toys get to the children who are flooded out is via teams consisting of a Salvation Army driver and a handful of volunteers. We team up and hit the road.
Over the first three days I variously cooked hamburgers, opened plastic bags so other volunteers could put in condiments, moved pallets of food and water, loaded trucks, unloaded trucks, stirred ground beef so it had spices mixed in for spaghetti sauce, organized pickup truck beds with cargo, explained to other volunteers what we were doing, drove to the south of Florida with a mobile canteen three times to hand out toys, MREs, hot meals, boxed lunches and water. I also spent a lot of time out in front of the truck walking up driveways where the doors were open and the people laboring inside to clean up, or just cope with their damage, and offered help in the form of a hot meal, water, a box lunch, or prayer.
Pablo and Todd in the mobile kitchen. They rocked the house and worked super hard.
Everyone has a role on these teams. My friend got the nickname “Condiment Queen” the first day, but on her second trip with us she became “Scoopy” I was simply Santa.
That’s how I met Dave. He was all alone on his driveway, the ruins of his life shielding him from the street, utterly in shock. He had that 1000 yard stare that victims of PTSI/D have. I asked him if he was hungry. He whispered he was fine and asked me to take care of others who needed it more. It was clear that Dave was in need, so I gently told him that he looked like he needed some help and we’d be honored to serve him. I talked to him for a minute, found out he had a wife and child in the house (Dave was approx 80) and I scooted back to the truck which we’d turned into a mobile canteen. Two volunteers dished up and prepared hot meals for our new friends from their place on the tailgate of our “tactical canteen” while I ran meals and ran ahead to scout out the needy.
But when I delivered Dave’s meals, he had tears in his eyes. I stopped and prayed with him. I’m not a holy-roller, but prayer makes a huge difference to people who are shattered. As a matter of fact, I spent a great deal of time on Monday holding the elderly in my arms while they shed tears and prayed over them. The meals were good. I got in my 1/2 marathon training in steps for the race at the end of the month (I guestimate I did 12-15 miles). But most of all, I comforted the afflicted and tried to brighten their days. It’s what He would want.
I am thankful to the Salvation Army for giving me the opportunity. I’m off from that for a few days to take care of my wife after surgery, but I’ll be back out there later this week.
Don’t hesitate to support the Salvation Army via this link:
They do good work. And it will go on for months in this area: we got clobbered. If you’re in SW Florida and want to help, hit that link and look for the volunteer information. We can use your hands and feet to serve others.
Here is a gallery of all the photos I can share from the past few days. More to come!
Possibly the saddest sign of the week. I really needed coffee this morning at the hospital.