MANATEE — Lexie Taylor, the director of Manatee Religious Services, travels to a little trailer in a fish camp in Lakeport that she and her husband, Hub, own on the western shore of Lake Okeechobee in Glades County.
In October 2004, the fish camp was battered by a hurricane, but the Taylors’ trailer remained in one piece.
Although their trailer was fine, the Taylors realized others in the camp were left homeless and totally without services.
“There were two little churches in that area and neither were open,” Taylor said. “That really brought it home to me. If those churches were going to be available to their community, that was the time.”
A not-for-profit organization is striving to get all the roughly 280 Christian churches in Manatee County to be open after a hurricane.
Network of Hope — Disaster and Outreach Mobilization of Christian churches, founded by Bradenton’s Nancy Kenney in 2005, has signed up roughly 100 local churches, including some in Sarasota.
Kenney, who is a trained disaster relief worker who has been on scene during the last nine U.S. hurricane landing sites dating back to 2004, is pushing for more area churches to join now that hurricane season is here.
“Nancy knows how to train churches to become healing stations,” Taylor said.
Kenney’s organization not only helps train members of a church in what to do after a storm, but it has also networked with churches across the region.
“If our church in Parrish is down, we are linked with other churches which will send members to our community,” said Pastor Don Burkhardt of Parrish United Methodist Church, which joined Network of Hope.
Some churches have not joined, their leaders telling Kenney that their national organizations advise them to remain closed and let the denomination’s disaster relief arm take over, Kenney said.
“I tell them that the denominations are awesome but we are talking about local response,” Kenney added. “The availability of local helpers from our churches is huge. You have people out there who really want to help.”
The roughly 100 churches locally that have joined Network of Hope are not open during the storm.
“I don’t know a single church in Manatee County that is a certified shelter,” Burkhardt said.
But immediately after the winds subside there are 13 ministries the church members will perform in the neighborhoods surrounding their facility.
The list includes pro- viding medical care using retired doctors and nurses from the church, locating people who are in trouble and need help, driving peo- ple to a hospital, making meals, offering prayer and emotional comfort, helping people fill out disaster relief forms, getting and distributing supplies to the most vulnerable and offering child care.
“What do you do with the toddler when you are filling out disaster relief papers?” Kenney said. “Churches have people with background checks in place. Churches are set up to take care of children.”
A most important post-storm ministry is hospitality, Kenney said.
“Open up the church and let it be a place where people can go to talk,” Kenney said. “If the church is damaged, set up a tent.”
Network of Hope churches also become “host” shelters for people to stay after the storm.
Manatee County has issued credentials for Network of Hope members, Kenney said.
Parrish United Methodist Church has dozens of members who have been trained by Kenney and even more who are not trained but have indicated their availability to help, Burkhardt said.
The trainees at Parrish United Methodist will meet at their church right after the storm passes by and make it a staging area.
“We will have some teams that go out into the community doing clean up,” Burkhardt said.
“One team will stay back and prepare meals. Another team will take on children while their parents are attending to damage. We will have prayer teams, triage teams and hospital transport teams.”
Burkhardt doesn’t feel a church can ever go down the road of only looking out for its own.
“Our motto is that we are the hands and feet of Jesus,” Burkhardt said. “That is where we need to be, providing comfort and assistance.”
For more information about Network of Hope, call 727-3279.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 6686.