Parish pantry volunteers say getting ahead of Irma helped people cope

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jim Davis

By Jim Davis

Fla. (CNS) — The best way to cope with something like Hurricane Irma: Get
ahead of it.

simple wisdom kept the turnout light at St. Rose of Lima Church Sept. 12, a day
after the storm roared through Kissimmee, a town just east of Walt Disney World
in the Orlando Diocese.

Only 15
to 20 people showed up for bagged goods at the church, reported Robert Doktor,
director of its food pantry. That’s at least partly because of foresight:
“About 160 people stocked up Sept. 5, because they knew the storm was
coming” before Irma arrived, he said. “Normally, we get 130

readiness, of course, is possible only with a long-standing ministry like St.
Rose of Lima’s food pantry, which runs out of a 1,700-foot-square house. Each
month, the pantry gives out four to six tons of food to more than 500 families,
as well as anywhere from six to 40 homeless individuals.

them each Tuesday are 50-60 volunteers, including 18 who worked at the pantry
the day after Hurricane Irma passed. Doktor himself showed up despite having
right arm in a sling from rotator cuff surgery.

who came said they found it rewarding.

said ‘God bless you’ and hugged me,” said Joe Rodriguez, one of two
assistants at the pantry. “It’s like a big family here.”

Perreira, the other assistant, agreed. “This is giving back to the
community. I’m retired — why shouldn’t I do something for others?”

Barbara Guth, a veteran at eight years with the pantry, sounded almost like
Pope Francis preaching his theology of encounter. “The people who come in
here, they’re wonderful. They hug me and tell me how they’re doing. You think
you’re helping them, but they’re helping you,” she told the Florida
Catholic, the newspaper of several of the state’s dioceses.

volunteers have another likely reason for the light turnout Sept. 12: Power was
out in much of Kissimmee, and many people may not have known the pantry would
be open. Rodriguez said he expected a lot of walk-ins Sept. 19, the next
Tuesday pantry volunteers were slated to hand out food.

impact of Hurricane Irma on Florida brought flooding to Kissimmee, which is in
the central part of the state. Hardly any place in the path of the massive
storm was left untouched. Its strength and size, with 120-plus-mph winds
stretching 70 miles from its core, leveled entire islands in the eastern
Caribbean, brought unprecedented flooding on Cuba’s north coast, devastated the
Florida Keys, snapped construction cranes in downtown Miami and targeted cities
along Florida’s Gulf Coast.

the Keys alone, at least 25 percent of the homes were destroyed and 65 percent
suffered significant damage, according to Federal Emergency Management Agency
administrator Brock Long. “Basically, every house in the Keys was
impacted,” he told the news media.

a Sept. 12 statement, the U.S. bishops’ Executive Committee prayed for
“the safety and care of human life” after two catastrophic hurricanes
— Irma and Harvey — and they urged Catholics around the country to offer
their prayers as well as financial support and volunteer help as they can.

Kissimmee, St. Rose of Lima’s pantry has been serving this half-Anglo,
half-Latino community for nine years — perhaps surprisingly, given the
manufactured joy of nearby Disney World. But looks can deceive, Doktor said: In
the fiscal year ending June 30, the pantry served 420 families per month; now
it’s over 500.

more, roughly half of the clients are elderly. And in the Poinciana community
around St. Rose of Lima, more than one-quarter of the families with children
fall below the national poverty level, Doktor said.

of the ladies today came in, and she has three grandchildren she’s raising on
Social Security,” Doktor said. “We see this all the time. Now you know why
I do this.”

Fortunately, the pantry has many allies. It gets donated food
from area stores, restaurants and the Second Harvest food bank. Civic, ethnic
and community organizations also hold fundraisers for the pantry, Doktor said.

He and other pantry volunteers also are planning and saving
for a new center, with equipment like a refrigerated truck. Thus far, they’ve
raised $30,000-$40,000 of a $400,000 goal.

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Davis writes for the Florida Catholic, newspaper of the
Archdiocese of Miami and the dioceses of Orlando, Palm Beach and Venice.

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