Volunteers at Our Lady Star of the Sea Church, St. Marys, sort supplies donated and destined to be delivered to St. Dominic Church in Panama City, Florida, which was devastated by Hurricane Michael in October. Photograph by Jessica L. Marsala.

Our Lady Star of the Sea aids in hurricane relief

Originally Appeared in : 9825-12/6/18
The scene that met Chrissy Bundrick’s eyes when she first saw the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in and around St. Dominic Church in Panama City, Florida, was one of “complete devastation” and “really hard to take in.”
“The church itself had a lot of damage. And our campus: Basically our office was damaged, our parish hall was completely destroyed and our religious ed. building as well and our rectory where we were during the storm was also,” said Father Luke Farabaugh, parochial vicar at the parish, in a phone interview. “They’re calling it a ‘gut to the studs,’ stripped completely, take everything out because of the water damage and the roof was coming off.”
Bundrick, who is the head of the youth ministry program at Our Lady Star of the Sea Church (OLSS) in St. Marys, journeyed to the city with OLSS religious education directors Rhonda and Tim Hughes, and a group of youth and young adults to assist the community with their hurricane recovery efforts. The parish is located approximately 25 miles from Mexico Beach, where Hurricane Michael made landfall Oct. 10.
Over the course of five days in late November, they helped the local diocese’s Catholic Charities distribute donated supplies and then also served at the homes and in the yards of individuals in the Panama City community where Hurricane Michael dropped trees and much debris.
Because of their efforts, combined with that of many in-state and out-of-state volunteers–some from as far away as Minnesota, Washington, California and Indiana—who responded to the parish’s plea for assistance on social media, they were able to serve approximately two to 4000 people a day, according to Father Farabaugh. 
Father Farabaugh highlighted the “fresh energy, enthusiasm, encouragement” brought by the out-of-state volunteers who helped revitalize the others, especially those who had been personally affected by the hurricane and had to “burn the midnight oil,” as he himself did.
“I think the best part of the distribution center was inviting those groups,” he said.
Volunteers such as OLSS youth Aiden Capulong, a student at Camden County High School in St. Marys, said they could sense the positive effects of their efforts on both buildings and their occupants.
“It was kind of eye opening to see the devastation caused to the people because we had seen a lot of destruction to their houses. But it was a totally different thing seeing how badly these people’s souls had been affected because for them it was a moment of having to live off of others,” Capulong said. “A lot of people--they had sacrificed a lot, just that way they could live whether it be their pride or their home. But it was good seeing how much happiness came out of them. Whatever you provided them with (is) what common people take for granted.” 
Bundrick similarly remarked that she was particularly touched when one individual whose home and yard they helped clear of trees and debris, took the time to write 16 thank you cards for each one of the volunteers in the group. The individual had expressed to them how grateful she was for the amount of work they had gotten done.
“I wish we could go back and do more because it’s going to be a long time for people to be able to get back to some type of normalcy which is normal for us,” she said, when asked how she felt about the group’s efforts. “I felt good about the work that we did. But I wish we could have stayed longer and did more.”
For the people of Panama City, however, the efforts of these heroes—as one individual described to Capulong—is more than enough.
“I would say, glory to God, that it’s really the success of Catholic Charities and the amount of people that were served and the volunteers that were able to come -- wasn’t from any human innovation or like human-convincing power it really was from God’s grace,” Father Farabaugh said. “He inspired it, put it on the hearts of these volunteers, and God provided for us. I really do believe God provided for us when we really were hurting and needing it most.”
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