As “Uncle Bobby” Holland lay in his bed the night Hurricane Irma came ripping through South Miami, he knew something bad was happening outside. But it wasn’t until the morning light that he realized just how lucky he was. What he witnessed when he opened the front door literally took his breath away.
The giant tree that had gently adorned his home of more than 22 years had been violently split in two and strewn about like kindling – one huge limb barely missing his corner bedroom.
“I’ve been through a whole bunch of storms, and maybe a few more,” said Holland. “But I’m thinking maybe a tornado split this old sea grape right down the middle.”
Pointing across from SW 58th Place and 66th Street where his daughter and her three kids are staying, he said one half of his 50-year-old tree went right across the intersection while the other half flew into his back yard.
“I know I’m very lucky that one chunk of the tree only grazed the roof. Not hard though… no leaks that I know of.”
With no lights or a/c, Holland was struggling through, making the best of it, when Wednesday morning he got a knock on his door. More good luck – in the form of a crew of volunteers from the nearby Fellowship Church.
Campus Pastor Chris King was standing there with about a dozen students dispatched by the church to help clear the broken trees, rake up debris, and to deliver some bottled water and other survival gear.
“Soon as the storm passed, we reached out to the City Mayor’s Office, because we had some Fellowship Church members who wanted to serve,” said King. “People helping people – that’s what it’s all about.”
They quickly got a call back from South Miami Mayor Phillip Stoddard and Community Outreach Programs Coordinator James McCants who coordinated with the church by providing the names of local people in need and their addresses. Fellowship Church is located in South Miami, about a half-mile away, at 6767 Sunset Drive.
“We told them we had some willing and able labor with chain saws – and they put us right to work. That’s how we met Uncle Bobby,” said King. The church worked throughout the area for a week following Hurricane Irma, using five teams of volunteers ranging from age 14 to older adults.
“The cool thing is, most of our young volunteers didn’t even have power themselves in their own homes. It appears cabin fever was setting in and they just wanted to get out and help other people,” he added.
Fellowship Church volunteer Ken Velasquez said, “People were just so happy see us. And we were happy to see them – it gave us a chance to speak about our faith and to share how relieved we all are to be alive.” Velasquez is also a familiar face at the CocoWalk Starbucks in the Grove where he works as a barista. His store was closed without power for several days.
King says Fellowship Church has been involved in numerous relief efforts over the years. In the process, they have developed a good working relationship with the city and Mayor Stoddard, whom, he notes, is a good friend of the church.
“Fellowship Church volunteers also assisted with ice distribution at our Community Center,” Stoddard said. “They also helped me get generators to elderly residents with health issues. I am extremely grateful for their generosity in our time of need.”
Certainly, a hurricane creates a lot of “opportunities,” as King put it. In fact, he believes Fellowship Church’s Senior Pastor Ed Young captured it best by saying, “Extreme situations create extreme opportunities for people to do really good things.”
According to King, “That’s the heart of Fellowship Church – to do things that are uncomfortable for ourselves so that other people can have comfort.
“In the process, even though these young folks are out here sweating and getting splinters, they’re managing to have fun. When you serve other people, it’s actually really fun.”
For now, Holland is just gratified be alive – and to be getting some much-needed assistance. “It’s been rough around here, been real tough,” he said. “But we did survive and you all did too, and we’re so glad you’re here for us.
“Every little bit helps, and I’m just glad I didn’t have to go through all this all by myself.”