As a result of the partnership between Lutheran Disaster Response and Florida-Bahamas Synod, Messiah Lutheran Church in Panama City is now set up to host volunteers who want to come to the area to help with the ongoing relief work from Hurricane Michael. Thanks to the leadership of Pr. Stan Wickett, who served as the initial Disaster Response Coordinator, for the important work that is now being done by Kim Hopkins, who is also working as the Construction Manager Panama City. Based at Messiah Lutheran Church, Panama City, Kim also serves as the committee chair for the construction committee of Rebuild Bay County, Inc, (RBCI) the long-term recovery group that has been formed in response to Hurricane Michael. In this role she takes in clients and cases, coordinates/identifies storm damage, coordinates funding and prioritizes the work that needs to be done.
Originally from the eastern shore of Maryland, Kim got involved in disaster relief in response to Hurricane Sandy in Summerset County, MD. She was also involved in recovery in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands, after Hurricanes Irma and Maria. She has been in Panama City since the end of May. Kim says she accepted the invitation to Panama City because she “knew it was going to be a long road.” “And it was LDR inviting, so I knew what I was getting myself into,” she continues. “Their system works well.”
One of the roles of RBCI is to coordinate the work being done by the variety of relief groups that have been on the ground since the storm. “…The key is to get them all operating under the umbrella of RBCI,” Kim says. “We can help more people by pulling together and everyone doing what they’re good at.” .
Kim is training disaster case managers to effectively assist the disaster survivors in the community. Gradually, clients are beginning to get their needs met. Through RBCI’s partnerships—including a partnership with Habitat for Humanity who provided labor and materials—four families are getting roofs put on their homes. Kim is getting the rest of the work on the house ready for volunteer groups. The biggest need right now, according to Kim, is roofs. There is a great need to efficiently build new homes, while also putting good roofs on existing homes. This requires a level of skilled labor. There are also lots of mobile homes in the area that have been damaged, which can be repaired with volunteer labor.
But while there is work to be done, there is the challenge of volunteer housing. Through Messiah Lutheran Church, the Florida-Bahamas Synod has been able to put bunk beds in two rooms at Messiah, to create a ‘volunteer dorm’ for groups wanting to come to the area. There are showers and a kitchen available as well. With 2 hook-ups outside for RVs, Messiah is now able to house groups of up to 14 volunteers. Groups need to bring their own food, cook, linens (sheets, towels, blankets) and pillows. The cost is $10 per person.
Most of the need at the moment is for skilled volunteers. There is office/administrative work, as well as work for those who can use chainsaws, help with clearing debris, or have building skills. Contractors who can work under their license and volunteer their time would also be helpful. But for groups of any skill-level, there is meaningful work to be done.
Disaster Recovery in the Panhandle is expected to continue for at least the next 3 years. To learn more or to take a volunteer team to Panama City, contact Kim Hopkins at firstname.lastname@example.org.