Tender Hearts & United Way Partner to Reach the Community
It has been nearly 7 months since Hurricane Sally meandered her way through the Panhandle. During these months, many local organizations have joined together to help our community members repair their homes and reclaim their lives. Ministry Village at Olive is fortunate to be a United Way partner. Through this partnership, MVO was awarded funding through the United Way Hurricane Sally Relief Fund to distribute to qualified clients. This is the story of one of the families MVO was privileged to help.
As Hurricane Sally made landfall on the Gulf Coast in the early morning hours of September 16, 2020, Frances S. and her family were already fighting for the integrity of their home. The hours of historic rain that preceded the landfall of the slow-moving storm softened the soil around the largest tree in their neighborhood. The power was already out and the home was dark when the 80-foot oak tree fell across their home, crashing through the roof above their master bedroom, their living space, and their guest rooms where Frances’s sister, brother-in-law, and niece had been temporarily living. As Frances ran through the dark home, she couldn’t see what exactly had happened, but she knew a tree had fallen and she needed to make sure her sleeping family members were safe and able to find their way out of danger. Thankfully, while the roof was compromised, no one was injured, and soon they were all gathering buckets, pots and pans to catch the rain that was now leaking quickly into their home. Rising floodwaters were also a concern, but fortunately, flooding did not impact the home.
Once the storm had passed and the family could see the damage they were facing, they realized their house was unstable, and they would need a place to live while they began tackling repairs. Many other local families were facing the same dilemma. It took the family one week before they could find an available Air BNB to rent. Frances’s sister and her family were able to stay with relatives in Ft. Walton. Frances and her husband began working with their mortgage company and insurance to figure out the repair process, and calling FEMA and local nonprofits to see what help was available. “It was a traumatic experience – not only the storm itself, but just trying to figure out what to do and where we were going to live,” said Frances. After a few weeks, Frances was able to find a rental home so they could move beyond the Air BNB since their own home remained uninhabitable.
The insurance process was slow and complicated, and the lack of available contractors and construction materials in the Pensacola area further slowed the progress of repairs. Frances and her husband had suddenly taken on what felt like an additional full-time job, as they continued to work their regular jobs and also help their son continue school and adjust to their new living conditions. When they reached out to their mortgage company to request a deferment on their mortgage payments, they learned that their FHA loan required them to be living in their home to receive any mortgage assistance. As Frances reached out to local nonprofits, she learned that requirement was not unusual. She seemed to hit a dead-end on every possible road for assistance. Then Frances was told to call 211, a number she had never heard of before, for United Way assistance. She was referred to Ministry Village at Olive’s program, Tender Hearts Caring Hands – a United Way partner.
When she called Tender Hearts, she felt an instant calm. “I just knew they were going to help me. I spoke with Ashley first. She took my information and told me they would see what they could do, and that someone would call back soon. I’m not sure why I felt so hopeful, but I did. The next day, Kathie called. She told me what they could do to help and how the process worked. I could tell they really cared, and I just knew I had found someone who would help.” Frances qualified for a grant from the United Way Hurricane Sally Relief Fund. With United Way and THCH, it was a helpful and quick process. As Frances and her husband worked to manage the insurance claims and repair process, they had to continue to maintain their damaged home, paying the monthly mortgage as well as utilities – power, water, and garbage. In addition, they were now paying monthly rent and utilities at their temporary home, as well as all of the deposits required for establishing an additional residence. Seven months later, the insurance process continues, and repairs have not yet begun at their home. Insurance adjusters are still assessing the damage and determining repair costs, but Frances is hopeful that repairs will start by May. She just extended their rental agreement for another 7 months, and she knows they have many months of disruption facing them. However, she remains hopeful and feels thankful and blessed that they still have a home to repair.
The grant funds provided to Frances allowed her to catch up on her mortgage payment for 3 months and not lose her home of 14 years. The help from United Way and Ministry Village at Olive relieved a huge source of stress from Frances and her family. Frances, who works in customer service, quickly recognized how helpful and caring the Tender Hearts team was. “When you need help and you’re afraid and stressed, it makes such a difference to talk to someone who makes you feel like they will do everything they can to help you. That’s how I felt after speaking with Tender Hearts. We are so very grateful for what United Way and Tender Hearts ministry has done for us. It has truly made such a difference in our lives. Your work is not in vain. You are doing the Lord’s work, and we feel so blessed. Thank you for everything.”
- Tender Hearts Caring Hands is the care and kindness ministry of MVO, focused on serving individuals and families in Escambia and Santa Rosa County that have significant need. THCH helps qualifying families with rental assistance to prevent individuals and families from being evicted and uprooted from their community. They provide assistance with power bills and other utilities to ensure no one is eating dinner in a dark, cold house. The program also provides assistance for local transportation and food needs.
- The Tender Hearts Caring Hands Food Pantry accepts donations Monday through Friday, from 9AM to 2PM at the Ministry Village at Olive office (1716 E. Olive Road). Donations of nonperishable food items and travel-size hygiene items are accepted. Financial donations are appreciated and go toward purchasing the items THCH distributes each day. Supporters can also make purchases through Amazon and items can be shipped directly to the Ministry Village at Olive office.
- The Tender Hearts Caring Hands Food Pantry provides food to those in need Monday-Friday from 10AM to 12noon at the Ministry Village office (1716 E. Olive Road).
- For financial assistance including rent and utilities for those who qualify, contact the Tender Hearts Caring Hands office at (850) 473-4466. Details for qualifications are available on the MVO website.
- For updates and information, follow the Ministry Village at Olive Facebook page.
- To donate financially to Tender Hearts Caring Hands or any Ministry Village program, click here.
- If you would like to volunteer with Tender Hearts Caring Hands, contact Kathie at (850)475-1118 or by email at KSchuster@ministryvillage.org.