This update is primarily focused on updating the PIER 419 crew, but I have attached others onto it as well, so that you can hear an account of what took place over the past week.
First off, praise God for the efforts and results of many that can only be described as successful. You were all so integral in making this relief effort happen. Thank you all for being people of action. Observing a need, seeing how you can step up to help, and then doing it... QUICKLY!!! Thank you - and the people of Mendenhall, Mississippi thank you too.
Here is a quick summary of the past week. I want to stress that the recap as I experienced things. If you talk to others that were involved, you will hear different experiences. From HBCLZ we had Dirk Recker, Alex Recker, Phil Gomez, Ryan Koehl, Kris Hammond, and myself. You will be able to hear others stories on Wednesday night at youth group.
People realized that we needed to do something.
Emails went out starting many groups of people into action. Some of these groups were HBC Lake Zurich, HBC Rolling Meadows, The FreeCycle group, Mundelein High School, and many corporations including: Fisher, Dominick's, Weekenders, and most likely others that I personally am not aware of. Thank you all for acting! Besides the email and phone calls going to the masses, there was a conference call Thursday night that built the skeleton of a very successful plan - all thanks to God.
Collection day. Things were happening big time. The garage of the HBCLZ parsonage filled up quickly. First a one-car garage space, then growing to include donations in the second and third car spaces. At Mundelein High School, there was an announcement on Friday morning telling students to bring clothing and food items to the game that evening. It seemed that almost every other person coming into the stadium had a bag or case of water to donate. I also want to thank Ben Price and Ryan Koehl for coming over to help shuttle the donations to the truck pick-up site. We filled the back of a truck bed and the inside cab area and the entire inside of a Malibu Maxx - TWICE. Way to go Mundelein!!! Thank you for stepping up when there was a need. At HBCRM they were collecting items in there gym, and the bags collected covered the entire gym floor. Praise God alone!
Thank you to everyone that showed up at 7AM to load the trucks. I would like to personally thank the Men's prayer group that was vital in the timely loading of the HBCLZ truck. There were a number of moments on the trip where things could have gone right or wrong. And glory be to God, that in ALL of those moments, the Lord allowed things to go right.
One that stood out to me was when I was at the Dominick's in Vernon Hills on Saturday morning to collect bread and baked goods that the GM had said would be laid out. Apparently the communication of this had not been transferred, and the assistant GM on duty had no idea I was coming. When I thought we would be without this donation, she stepped up and said they would just have to come up with something. She grabbed a cart, and gave one to me, and first went down the packed bread aisle tossing hamburger buns and loaves of bread into our carts. She then went over and cleaned out there bakery section as well. I left Dominick's with three-and-a-half carts of bread goods.
We left to Mendenhall with two Penske 22-foot trucks, a Dodge Intrepid, a Honda Odyssey, a Fort Taurus, and a Nissan SUV pulling a trailer. The trip down was safe and uneventful until we stopped in Grenada, Mississippi to fill up our vehicles with gas, and also the empty gas canisters we were bringing down so the ministry would have gasoline. When we pulled off, we quickly found out that they were out of gasoline at the station we stopped at. After talking to people we heard of some places that might have gas, so the team split up heading to different locations. This was the first real experience we had with the devastation. Everyone pulling into the stations had a story. They pulled in with their belongings with them - tables, clothes, TV's, lamps, etc... We all talked to different people. I talked to a girl who had left Biloxi and a couple that had left New Orleans. Neither thought there homes were still in tact, flooding had forced both of them out. Pray for them and people like them.
One thing that was both awesome and humbling was as we were driving down, our little caravan was driving amongst military convoys also headed down to help in the relief. The symbolism was not lost on us, as we were both going down to support our fellow Americans.
Praise God we found the gas we needed - so Team Penske hit the road again.
We arrived in Mendenhall at 1:30ish on Sunday AM. In the pitch black of the country we began unloading our trucks.
A huge props to God is due. The visitors center (where we sorted the food, prepared the food, and stayed) had the power turned on at 5 PM on Saturday afternoon. They are apparently on the same system as the hospital, so they were first to get back the lights. PRAISE GOD!!! We were able to function dramatically more effectively and efficiently than if we had no lights and power.
We sorted all of the donations into classified piles in the visitor center - clothes, charcoal and grills, fruit drinks, water, food, baked goods, generators, flashlights, paper goods, personal hygiene items, diapers, and other baby needs. We unloaded until shortly after 4AM, and then everyone crashed.
One story that must be told, is about when we woke up at 9AM. One of the first things that needed to be done was heading to Walmart to get a few items to help in the preparation for our "picnic". They had just reopened their doors, and we needed a few items. Two guys from our team went to Walmart as the rest worked on things in the visitor center. When our guys got to Walmart they were greeted with a line of people waiting to get in. They were not waiting because they weren't open, they were waiting because only 20 people were allowed in the store at a time, so there was no crazy rush or anything. Once we got in, we soon realized that they had no produce, no nothing. We in fact had more food and supplies with us, then the entire Walmart had. God was taking care of His people - and you helped with that. It was humbling for us to be a part of.
Those that had stayed behind began sorting the food into organized groups. There were rooms with bunk beds in them intended for volunteers to sleep on. We took two of those rooms and transferred them into supply rooms. We took the mattresses off, and made each bed the sight to put a food group. We had beds set up for vegetables, tuna, soup, Spaghetti-O's, fruit, apple sauce, pasta, chips, cereal, snacks, crackers, chips, etc...
In the kitchen, the preparation of the beef, rice, bread, etc... was taking place.
We had barely finished sorting and preparing when people began showing up. We put plates of food together for everyone to enjoy. We then took big bags and started cranking up the assembly line. Every bag deferred slightly as we had different people putting them together. Each bag had approximately 1 can of tuna, 1 can of either Spam or Chicken, 1 can of Spaghetti-O's, 2 cans of soup, 2 cans of vegetables, 2 cans of fruit, a container of apple sauce, a box of Mac and Cheese, a box of cereal or crackers, granola bars, fruit snacks, crackers, soap and hygiene items, paper towels, 4 rolls of toilet paper, juice boxes, and a loaf of bread. In addition, every family received a case of bottled water. In addition, we had forms they could fill out for special needs that included: diapers, wipes, grills, charcoal, flashlights, etc...
I want to thank the Lord that this happened in such an organized way. We were not "trained" how to do this, when people started showing up, everyone took a task and ran with it. To the observer I would guess it seemed like we had planned this for weeks, but it just came together. Thanks be to God.
We had approximately 440 sheets of paper handed in with family registrations and special needs. This means at least 440 bags full of food and cases of bottled water were handed out. I know for a fact, that we also helped people that did not turn in papers, so my estimate is around 500 FAMILIES were helped out, impacting many more individual lives than that. All of this was passed out by approximately 5PM. Those hours flew by so fast, and I want to thanks everyone that was involved. They did not stop moving at all the entire time. You are an inspiration of what can be done when you have the love of the Lord within you.
After the rush was over, we were all exhausted, but satisfied. We all had the opportunity to talk to different people during the time of handing out supplies, and we shared these stories with each other. One that stood out was of a woman who received diapers in addition to the other things. She was crying, as her gratefulness could not be contained. She had taken in a mother and 8 children from New Orleans, and didn't know how she was going to feed them. Because of all of your donations, she knew how she would be able to help them today.
We walked around looking at some of what the Hurricane had done to the community. While we didn't see images like the ones you are seeing on TV, it was sad seeing a community torn up. We saw trees uprooted and lying in and on homes. Power lines were down everywhere. While the destruction wasn't the worst experienced of the entire area, the people that we were helping are some of the poorest in Mississippi. They would need our support even without the Hurricane, but now people are coming from Hattiesburg, Biloxi and New Orleans for help.
We departed at about 10AM and returned home at midnight on Monday evening.
We will be gathering together this Wednesday night from 7:00 - 8:30 for everyone to share pictures and stories of their experience. Please invite everyone you think would be interested in hearing what happened and what still needs to happen.
You may have noticed that I didn't really mention the clothes that was donated. There are people sorting them this week, and they will be given out in the near future. The food and water was of greatest priority right now, but everything will be handed out in the near future. There are people coming from Hattiesburg, Biloxi and New Orleans for help and even today they are passing out clothing. The region needs more help than just a one-time visit. There are plans being made to put together a plan of relief efforts. We will communicate this plan to you as soon as it is concrete.
Please come out this week to HBCLZ's high school ministry PIER 419 from 7:00-8:30 PM as we will be sharing an update, and also talking about what we need to do in the future. Please be praying for everyone involved in meetings the needs of our fellow Americans. Everyone that was a part of just this one relief effort is exhausted. It will take a team to best serve our brothers and sisters. Especially pray for Darel Thigpen, the man heading up the charge right there in Mendenhall, Mississippi. On top of his normal responsibly as President of Mendenhall Ministries, he has become the point person for relief efforts in the community.
There will be other trips of relief in the future, please come out to find out what WE need to do now.
God bless you all,
for the PIER 419 Team