Panama City, FL (November 2, 2018)  As the days turn into weeks since Hurricane Michael hit Panama City, The Salvation Army remains steadfast in its efforts to provide comfort and hope.  Crews on Salvation Army canteens (mobile feeding units) head out across the city each day to provide hot meals to thousands of survivors, as well as distribute food boxes, hygiene kits, cleaning supplies and tarps.

“This is the worst hurricane I’ve ever seen,” said Fred Pentz of Kerrville, Texas, who has been a volunteer with The Salvation Army’s Emergency Disaster Services since 2007.  “I was at Harvey last year. Harvey was tough.  This is ugly,” he added.

The ugly, widespread damage may take months or even years to repair and rebuild. The spirits of the hurricane survivors are starting to lift, though, and they are expressing their gratitude to Salvation Army volunteers in special ways.

“It makes me proud of what we do,” said Fred. “It makes it great.”

Fred and his fellow canteen worker took their canteen for an oil change a few days earlier. When they went to settle the bill, the manager told him an employee named Nathan was going to pay for it himself. Fred was speechless.

“Nathan said, ‘I just got power and water back to my house. We’ve been out since the hurricane, three weeks, and my wife and kids have been eating with The Salvation Army every day. I just felt like God was telling me to do that,’” Fred recalled. “He felt like he needed to pay it back.”

Mitzi Johnson and Carol McKernan had been pulling 12 hour days for almost two weeks, when 7-year old Lillian stopped by their canteen on St. Andrews Boulevard in Panama City.

“She gave cards to every one of us who were working out there that day,” said Mitzi. “I was in tears. I didn’t read it right away. I read it when my day was over. It just encouraged me to keep on and keep doing and serving for the people that have lost everything here.”

Together with each card was a wooden cross Christmas ornament.

“If I remember right, their home was spared and she just wanted to show thanks to all of the people who came down,” said Carol. “For them to be in the situation they’re in and they want to give back and give to the people who are helping. It’s incredible. She’s an amazing young lady.”

Dan Hager of Lake Worth, Florida was working on a canteen this week, when he too received a card from a hurricane survivor.  Inside was written:

Thanks to all of you, those here now and those that have gone home and to those that will still come. Your prayers, giving of self and time, encouragement, smiles mean so much. Also my husband and I are so grateful for the food provided and love felt.

“It just hits your heart in a way, to know we are truly blessed. Not only as individuals but as an Army,” Dan shared.

“Even after all they’ve been through, they took time to do this,” said Mitzi. “To me, that means so much.”

Panama City, FL (November 1, 2018) – A Salvation Army truck towing a trailer with food boxes slowly weaved its way through Sandy Creek, a rural community on the outskirts of Panama City. Hurricane Michael’s destructive force left no home untouched here. Some are beyond salvageable.

“It’s very sad,” said Stan Carr, a Salvation Army volunteer from New Jersey. “I’m grateful I’m in the position to help them even in the smallest way.”

As the electricity has been restored across the area, the need for hot meals has decreased, but food boxes from the Midwest Food Bank are in high demand. The Salvation Army has distributed more than 10,000 food boxes to hurricane survivors since October 11, a number that continues to grow each day.

“Maybe all of the food in their house was destroyed, stores are depleted,” Stan explained. “So we’re going to give them a few days’ worth of meals until the stores get stocked and they can get back on their feet a little.”

The power came back to this neighborhood a few days ago. Mary Carr (no relation to Stan,) her husband, daughter and three grandsons rode out the storm at a church a few miles away. They are among the families who are able to continue living in their home, which she says miraculously sustained only cosmetic damage.

“It changes your life,” Mary said as she looked at the debris that lined Country Club Drive.

Mary is grateful for The Salvation Army’s support providing hot meals while they coped with no power for nearly three weeks. On this day she was able to get a few food boxes to tide them over at home.

“You’ve been absolutely wonderful,” said Mary.

Stan, together with his fellow Salvation Army volunteers Jim Wilson and Angela Cano, went door to door until all 180 food boxes were gone. It’s clear that the road to recovery in Sandy Creek will be long and arduous, but The Salvation Army remains committed to helping this community heal and rebuild.

“We’re here to hold their hand and we tell them, ‘there’s going to be brighter days,’” Stan said. “It’s also our presence, knowing Someone is there for them and someone is on their side. It hurts to see people in so much pain. And that’s what drives me to come from New Jersey and help in any way I can.

Panama City, FL (October 31, 2018) – The Salvation Army of Panama City and Bill Cramer Chevrolet Cadillac Buick GMC partnered for a special community celebration on Halloween to give local families a reprieve from the stress they’ve endured in the weeks following Hurricane Michael.

“Hurricane Michael destroyed homes. It destroyed businesses. But one thing it did not destroy is the caring spirit of this community,” said Major Otis Childs, Corps Officer, The Salvation Army of Panama City. “That kind of spirit is what created this event today.”

The free event, which took place at the car dealership, featured a cook-out, trick-or-treating, and giveaways such as backpacks, school supplies, food boxes, tarps and hygiene kits.  Therapy dogs with Therapy Dogs International were on site to provide some hope and comfort to hurricane survivors.

“Let’s come together in the community – neighbor helping neighbor,” said Bill Cramer, Owner of Bill Cramer Chevrolet Cadillac Buick GMC.

Hundreds of families flocked to the party on Wednesday.  The little ones, decked out in creative and fun costumes, stocked up on Halloween candy, notebooks and crayons at a Salvation Army canteen (mobile feeding unit) parked in the lot. Salvation Army staff and volunteers loaded up their parents’ cars with much-needed supplies.

“You guys are doing great work in the community,” said Danielle Pierce of Panama City. “I appreciate your work and for everybody rebuilding our community.”

Like many local families, Danielle was concerned about taking her daughter trick-or-treating because of the condition of their neighborhood.

“Honestly I don’t even know where I am at anymore,” Danielle explained, regarding the significant hurricane damage that still lingers across the community. “It’s like your bearings and landmarks are gone.”

Her home is still standing, but just about everyone she knows has suffered significant losses as a result of the storm. She was relieved to find a safe place for trick-or-treating, having seen it posted on Facebook. She left work early on Wednesday and brought her four-year old daughter, Savannah, dressed as Wonder Woman.

“I’m excited seeing love being spread so much – people helping people,” Danielle said.

Despite the all of property damage and so many heavy hearts in Panama City, families were able to find some happiness for an afternoon with help from The Salvation Army.

“The Salvation Army will continue to be present. We will continue to do what we need to do in order to help people move forward and they will. This community will be rebuilt,” Major Childs said.

On Sunday morning, 38 of those people gathered to worship in Apalachicola before going out to serve those in need. Without chairs, people lined the bottom bleacher or stood in the old gym which has been converted into a community center. The pulpit was made by two boxes with a blanket over them. An offering was taken for Hurricane Michael.

Bayou George