Volunteers Stand in the Gap for Bahamas Hurricane Relief

Joan Liverpool sorts items in the MFI Hangar in Fort Pierce, FL.

Joan Liverpool sorts items in the MFI Hangar in Fort Pierce, FL.

Hurricane Dorian made landfall as a Category 5 hurricane on September 1, 2019, in the Northwestern Bahamas. The damage was extensive as the storm slowly dwindled in speed and finally came to a stationary rest over-top Grand Bahama Island. One minute sustained winds of Hurricane Dorian were recorded at 185 miles per hour (mph). Gusts of wind were at times recorded at 220 mph.

Prior to Hurricane Dorian’s turn to the north, Missionary Flights (MFI) evacuated their DC-3 aircraft and secured their hangar in Fort Pierce, FL, with full expectation that the storm may make landfall along the Treasure Coast of Florida. All of MFI’s pilots and many of the staff and families also evacuated aboard the DC-3 planes to Northern Alabama.

Since Hurricane Dorian turned north and MFI headquarters were spared, the decision was made to enact in a disaster relief response for the Bahamas. Within days, connections were made with organizations such as Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF), Priority Air Charter, Samaritan’s Purse, and the Freeport Salvation Army. The general public was made aware of MFI’s response via social media, local news stations, and churches.

Judah Svajda helps to unload a trailer that was stacked floor to ceiling.

Judah Svajda helps to unload a trailer that was stacked floor to ceiling.

After the planes arrived back to the Missionary Flights hangar on Wednesday evening, September 4, the hangar was prepared for the reception of donated goods the next day at 1:00 pm. Volunteers were quickly assembled into stations and the relief effort began with a generous response from the public.  Within a week, over 100,000 pounds of supplies was donated. Today, over 250,000 pounds of supplies has been donated.

“Extremely impressed. Very well run and organized,” wrote Stephanie Nathanson on the Missionary Flights Facebook page, “the staff are so nice, and everyone really works as a team. It just felt incredible to be able to volunteer for this beautiful and amazing organization.”

Volunteers made the receiving and processing of these goods possible. During the first week, as a car or truck approached the MFI Hangar, they were greeted by volunteers in orange vests who directed traffic for those looking to deliver relief supplies and those who were looking for volunteer parking. At the cargo receiving door, volunteers were staged to help with unloading and moving donated items to the packing floor. Another volunteer was staged as one who would welcome those dropping off goods and pass out an informational brochure and MFI gospel tract.

“It’s amazing to see the work God is doing through each individual volunteer,” remarked Holly Lemaster, Volunteer Coordinator. “Being the hands and feet of Jesus is what we are called to do, and that is exactly what is going on here.”

The Missionary Flights hangar in Fort Pierce, FL, took in over 300,000 pounds of supplies in two weeks.

The Missionary Flights hangar in Fort Pierce, FL, took in over 300,000 pounds of supplies in two weeks.

Ladies from the Eta Eta Omega Chapter in Fort Pierce, FL, also joined in on the volunteer effort. They helped to direct traffic, unload supplies, and sort through donated items to place them into boxed categories. “The work was fulfilling and we are in constant prayer for those who were affected,” they commented.

The MFI hangar has seen a dramatic transformation. While not all of the space has been taken, a sea of boxes now greets the visitor or volunteer. Along one side, a boxing area welcomes roughly 20 volunteers a day to sort through donated goods and pack like-items into a box. As those boxes are packed, another handful of volunteers will weigh, label, and strap the boxes closed before placing them on a categorized pallet. Once boxes are stacked five to six feet, the entire pallet is weighed and placed in a designated row based on its category.

“It is amazing to see the response from our community,” said Joe Karabensh, MFI President. “We have been blessed with many volunteers that have given their time throughout the week. Some have helped assist with our normal day to day operations. Others have taken roles of leadership to guide our disaster relief volunteers through the process of preparing goods and safely operating in our hangar. I feel very thankful that I can be a part of this great opportunity to serve the Bahamas and provide the community a place where they can stand in the gap with us for those in need.”