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Oystermen, families struggle in wake of Dennis

EASTPOINT, Fla. (BP)–At St. George Sound, Fla., where a bridge leads from Eastpoint to St. George Island there used to be a thriving oyster business.

No more.

Where shops once lined the narrow strip of land between Highway 98 and St. George Sound, there are now piles of asphalt, splintered wood and rubble and mounds of discarded oyster shells.

Hurricane Dennis July 10 sent a backlash of water into the region, knocking over bay-front buildings, tearing out the sand from beneath the two-lane highway and maybe even smothering ready-to-harvest oysters which give this town one of its few sources of income.

Sixty-seven-year-old Vernon Gilbert said he lived in “oystertown” all of his life and had never seen anything like the surge of water Dennis sent from the gulf, but he didn’t think folks were quite ready to pack it up.

“It’ll straighten out,” he said of the town. “It will come back slowly.”

Gilbert, who sold his shrimp boat a few years ago to become a commercial fishermen, has attended Eastpoint Baptist Church all of his life, and was baptized, with his wife, Olean, last year. He said the church has a weekly pantry ministry that will continue to help families.

In addition, the Florida Baptist Convention has disbursed limited funds through Disaster Relief, according to Phyllis Poland, special ministries director for the Northwest Coast Baptist Association. She is assisting Brenda Forlines, director of the convention’s church & community ministries department, with determining where emergency funds are needed most.

“These are sweet people who don’t mind working hard,” Poland told the Florida Baptist Witness. “I’ve seen young and old today who are going to suffer because of this. We can only meet the immediate needs.”

At Eastpoint Baptist, a missions team from First Baptist Church in McEwen, Tenn., modified a planned Vacation Bible School July 15. They grilled hot dogs and gave away t-shirts, literature and toys after presenting the Gospel in a puppet show.

Pastor Cecil Gilliland said he believes God had a “purpose and a reason” for the team of 21 to make the trip south.

“Paul, in Galatians 6:9, said to be not weary in well doing,” he said. “We have cleared, cut, mowed and emptied garbage.

“We’re excited about what God’s doing.”

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  • Joni B. Hannigan/Florida Baptist Witness