Witnessing the Connectional Church in Florida

Last week (March 6-10) the staff and Advisory Committee of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance traveled to Fort Myers, FL to meet as a group and with partners in the area.

           On Tuesday we drove to the community of Immokalee to learn from several of our partners there, including the Immokalee Fair Housing Alliance (IFHA), Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), Misión Peniel and The Guadalupe Center.

            Our partnership with the Immokalee Fair Housing Alliance is a testament to our approach to Long Term Recovery. Because of your generous support, PDA had Hurricane Irma funds to put towards this innovative plan— category 5 hurricane-safe and affordable apartments for Immokalee’s farmworker community. Dr. Arol Buntzman, chairman of IFHA, explained housing was the number one unmet need in Immokalee and that “[PDA has] been critical to the success of where we are now.” The 8 apartment buildings will include 128 apartments, a computer lab, library and meeting/study room(s) where they plan to host experts on financial literacy, immigration law and more. It is in a prime location near the bus line, grocery store, churches and other businesses. We are excited to watch as this project is built!


           Learning about Misión Peniel, which is a covenant ministry of Peace River Presbytery, was inspiring. Our Advisory Committee members saw the impacts of faithful partnership between local Presbyterians, congregations, presbyteries and PDA. Rev. Miguel Estrada, who is also on the Board of IFHA, showed us the facility where they provide meals, groceries, baby items, clothing, a community garden, after school programs and much more.

            Gerardo Reyes Chavez and Julia Perkins of Coalition of Immokalee Workers spoke with us about the Fair Food Program and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s historical support. The Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People (SDOP), one of our sibling ministries that receives the One Great Hour Of Sharing (OGHS) offering, was one of the very first funders of CIW almost 30 years ago. The other office that receives the OGHS offering, the Presbyterian Hunger Program, is also a long-standing and strong supporter of CIW, leading the church’s efforts in boycotting corporations that refuse to join the Fair Food Program. The 217th General Assembly passed a resolution in support of an ongoing partnership with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the Campaign for Fair Food in 2006. Prior to this, the 214th General Assembly voted to support the Taco Bell boycott in 2002 and the General Assembly Mission Council celebrated the CIW-Yum! Brands agreement in 2005. The PC(USA) and its predecessor bodies have supported fair wages for farmworkers, the right for farmworkers to bargain collectively and a variety of boycotts over the last century as a nonviolent way to express our Christian values and urge social change.

            Ellie Ramirez, the Director of the After-School Program of The Guadalupe Center shared about the unmet needs children in Immokalee are facing, and how safe housing and education will empower them to break the cycle of poverty.


            On Wednesday we split into groups and worked at three homes impacted by Hurricane Ian. Each home is either being gutted or completely demolished. “It was important for us as a staff and committee to include a workday during our meeting as an act of solidarity with our partners and the communities impacted. In addition to the conversations and reports, we wanted to have an opportunity to contribute to the recovery,” said PDA Director Rev. Edwin González-Castillo. Late that afternoon we drove to Buckingham Presbyterian Church, one of our PDA Volunteer Host Sites. While this church has been a PDA Volunteer Host Site since Hurricane Irma (however it temporarily closed at the start of the pandemic along with the rest of our Volunteer Host Sites), we were honored to be present for their official commissioning the preceding Sunday (the service was recorded and can be viewed here). The Host Site Coordinator, Bob Peterson, gave us a tour of the beautiful accommodations that make volunteers feel comfortable after a hard day’s work. Bob proudly showed us the shower trailer donated to the church from the Presbytery of Charlotte—a special ministry they have been providing for many years. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) really is a connectional church!

*photos taken of homes and/or homeowners were done so with consent


            We concluded our meeting on Thursday with business and reports from staff. We featured a presentation from Kathy Broyard, executive director of the Florida PDA Network (FLAPDAN) and National Response Team member. FLAPDAN is a long-standing partnership PDA has with the six presbyteries of Florida. These kinds of regional partnerships enable PDA to quickly and strategically respond to disasters; three more of these regional partnerships are underway in South Carolina, Puerto Rico and Synod of the Sun, which encompasses Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana.


            We are grateful to our Advisory Committee for making the time to meet with us, and for their thoughtful engagement this week. We hold in prayer the members and staff who could not be with us in person. Our current Advisory Committee members are:

Karen Finney, co-chair, Presbytery of Greater Atlanta

Rev. Ken Page, co-chair, Presbytery of Grand Canyon

Elder Dagmary Fornés Arcelay, Presbiterio del Noroeste

Rev. Laura Cheifetz, Presbytery of Middle Tennessee

Rev. Fern Cloud, Dakota Presbytery

Rev. Hardy Kim, Presbytery of San Jose

Rev. Jerrod Lowry, Coastal Carolina Presbytery

Marilyn Stone, National Response Team Liaison, Milwaukee Presbytery

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