HALLANDALE, Fla. (BP)–Shaking her head in disbelief as tears ran down her wrinkled face, Dottie Trull, an 83-year-old resident of north Miami’s working-class suburb of Hallandale hugged the man and woman who gave her and her daughter a small amount of money.
The financial assistance “isn’t much,” said Brenda Forlines, director of the church and community ministries of the Florida Baptist Convention.
“The main thing is that we’re able to pray with them and let them know that God loves them,” Forlines said, “and that the churches in their area care about them.”
Dottie, who takes care of her 62-year-old daughter, Dale, weathered six hours of Hurricane Wilma; its winds blew through their shutters, shattered windows and pulled away half their roof Oct. 24.
“That was the most scary thing I’ve ever been through,” Dottie said.
The two women, still tense three days later, said they had nowhere else to go to wait out the storm. When Dottie called a shelter, the person who answered said there was no room.
Dale said the waiting after the storm was “bad.” Dottie, her hands resting on a walking stick, said the darkness added to their fear. Without power, they couldn’t see who was walking past. With their trailer completely exposed, the women feared that thieves might steal what belongings they salvaged.
Forlines and Michael Daily, director of church and community ministries for the Miami Baptist Association, left the trailer promising to bring back food for the ladies who had eaten nothing but a bagel that day.
The goal of church and community ministries, Forlines said, is to help local churches reach out into their neighborhoods and develop strategies to meet people’s needs.
“There’s not a real ‘typical’ day,” Daily said. “There’s only a description of the work.” Outreach, he noted, can range from creating computer labs to setting up medical clinics in order to help churches connect with people in practical ways.
Assisting families like the Trulls, who have no insurance, is but a small part of Florida Baptist disaster relief, Forlines said as she drove back to the Trulls’ home with boxes of meals in her back seat.
Driving her silver minivan through another trailer park, Forlines spotted a unit with toys and broken pieces of furniture mixed with huge sections of the roof piled against its side. Spanish music blared from the radio of a truck parked in the yard and a family stood on what was left of the porch talking and even laughing.
Meeting blank stares and polite replies of “No hablo Ingles,” Forlines asked Daily to interpret.
Speaking in Spanish learned during his 18 years in Miami, Daily discovered Helbert Gomez was living in the trailer with Paula Montoya, her mother Margarita, and two children, Helbert, 10, and Raquel, 5.
Leaving the family with a small amount of cash and a prayer, Forlines and Daily went on to the next trailer with major structural damage.
A neighborhood resident referred Forlines and Daily to 90-year-old Theis Orr.
“I’m fine, but you don’t happen to have a cup of coffee in your back pocket, do you?” the widow responded to Forlines’ first question.
“Now I know how badly an alcoholic wants a drink,” Orr said, “because that’s how badly I want a cup of coffee.”
Orr said the hurricane winds caused her roof to leak and the insurance company told her the policy she had paid for 29 years didn’t cover wind damage.
In spite of her insurance frustrations and a lack of power, Orr said she preferred to remain alone in her damaged home rather than have her daughter come stay with her.
Offering Orr an envelope with a small amount of cash, Forlines tried to tell the woman how she and the local churches wished to express their love for her.
“No one has ever done this for me before,” the weeping woman said. “I’m only crying because I’m tired,” she added proudly.
Forlines and Daily visited family after family and trailer after trailer, leaving many with financial assistance and prayers of thankfulness for their safety. One family had left Honduras to escape the damage from Hurricane Mitch. Hurricane Wilma, however, destroyed all their belongings, including new furniture, when winds ripped the roof off their home. The family, which included two small children, still lived there.
“Sometimes your heart aches for people,” Daily said. “You want to take care of everything for them, but you don’t have the resources. It leaves you feeling a little downhearted.”
“Sometimes you see some really sad things,” Forlines added. “Some of the stories stick with you for a long time.”