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Damage to a home in FL caused by Hurricane IanDamage to a home in FL caused by Hurricane Ian

Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) is busy on the ground in hurricane-damaged Florida this week, doing assessment work necessary to deploy Early Response Teams as well as volunteers to help over the long term.

While such planning might not seem to be directly helping hurricane survivors, it’s vital to make  MDS’s response safe, fair, and most effective.

It’s also a time when MDS works closely with local emergency management officials and its partners among National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster to determine collaborative roles that can stretch funding and volunteer labor to help even more hurricane survivors.

“We are seeing extensive wind damage in some areas, and lots of water damage in others,” said Larry Stoner, regional operations coordinator, as he paused between assessments in the worst-hit areas of Florida. “There will definitely be a lot of work for Early Response Teams as well as volunteers who want to help during long-term recovery.”

MDS, along with local Florida emergency management officials, is urging volunteers not to self-deploy. “It creates more chaos when volunteers travel to an area and start working on their own,” said Stoner. “At the county level, people want to be aware of who is working in which communities.”

As plans take shape, Stoner and others at the response table help ensure that the people most in need receive help first. “Local communities are best at coordinating this, and we need to listen to them,” he said.

Hurricane Ian brought fierce winds for a long period of time when the storm made landfall on Sept. 28, and power lines and debris are still piled up.

Stoner asked that people pray for the local MDS Florida Unit. “They are carrying a lot of weight and responsibility as the initial investigations determine the communities in which MDS will work and the people MDS will help,” he said. “We are close to making the choices about where we should set up, and finding accommodations is challenging.”

These kinds of decisions aren’t bureaucratic—they’re made using both logistical knowledge but also with a discerning, faith-driven heart.

“We just pulled up into this large development, and I have my MDS sticker on the side of the car,” said Stoner. “As soon as people saw that, they came up and thanked us for all that we’re doing.”

Even though MDS is still gearing up to respond, MDS is already bringing hope. “Just seeing the MDS sticker, people know we’re coming to help them,” said Stoner. “They are saying, ‘thank you for showing interest and trying to help us.’ ”

The needs often seem overwhelming at this stage. “The sooner we can get volunteers into this area, the better,” acknowledged Stoner. “Early Response Teams will be able to hit the ground in the next couple of weeks.”


Chainsaw volunteers needed to help those impacted by Hurricane Ian. Sign up to volunteer

Click here if you wish to donate to support the response we will have in the coming days, months and even years. You may also donate by check, payable to “Mennonite Disaster Service” with “2022 Hurricane Ian” on the memo line. Our mailing address is: Mennonite Disaster Service, 583 Airport Road, Lititz, PA 17543.

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