They call her The Angel. It’s a perfect nickname.
Since last season’s hurricanes, Arlene Rosemeyer, a volunteer at Myakka City United Methodist Church, has spearheaded the church’s relief effort for hurricane victims in Arcadia, Ona and other nearby communities. For the last seven months, Rosemeyer has made countless eastbound trips with sacks of groceries, clothing and life necessities in the back of her Ford Windstar.
“They know my car,” Rosemeyer says with a smile. “When they see me driving down the street, they all come out.”
Many of the hurricane victims — especially in Arcadia — were poor even before the storms. Then, after the barrage of winds and rain swept away what little they had, it left many homeless, jobless, hopeless.
That’s when, befitting of her moniker, Rosemeyer began the relief ministry.
Last week, a group of 20 missionaries from several churches in Sugarcreek and Strasburg, Ohio, visited the church to assist Rosemeyer in the effort. In addition to delivering supplies to the victims, the missionaries spent their time in Florida expanding the church’s donation facility and painting its worship hall.
We call her The Angel, one of them says during lunch.
Rosemeyer blushes at the nickname and quickly dismisses it as a joke.
“All you can do is try,” she says with a shrug.
Ready to roll
Even before the rest of the volunteers are finished with lunch, Rosemeyer is already sketching a plan for an afternoon trip to Arcadia.
“We can take these leftover burritos and sandwiches out there,” she says, her eyes wide with excitement. “I don’t know if I’ve brought hot food since the hurricane. They’re going to love us today.”
After finishing lunch, 12-year-old missionary Molly Gerber grabs a plastic grocery sack and fills it with macaroni, canned food, fruit and pudding. Soon, a few more missionaries join her, and within minutes, an impressive row of care packages lines one of the church’s cafeteria tables.
This mission trip is Molly’s first, and even after only a few days, the experience has translated into memories and journal entries that will last a lifetime.
“We saw people much poorer than we are,” she says. “Seeing all of that for the first time really opened my eyes. And everyone was so appreciative of everything we brought. It meant so much to them.”
Just 10 minutes after lunch, Rosemeyer is ready to bolt.
“Let’s pack up,” she says. “We’ve got hot food and groceries. Let’s get it all in the vans.”
Along with Molly, three other Ohio missionaries accompany Rosemeyer on the trip. With the hot food secured in one vehicle and the groceries in another, Rosemeyer grabs her keys and purse.
“Ready to roll?” she asks on her way out the door. “Let’s go.”
The Rev. Carl Kandel, of Union Hill United Methodist Church, coordinated the mission trip. Along with people from his own congregation, the Myakka trip includes members from Strasburg United Methodist, Dover First United Methodist and Dover Faith United Methodist churches.
“It’s like coming home,” Kandel says of the trip. “The people here in Myakka have been so wonderful to us. We’re having a great time here.
“You get blessed when you give,” he says. “You receive more than you give. That’s how God works.”
Perhaps none of the missionaries feels more blessed than 61-year-old Alecia Prentice.
“All my life, I’ve always wanted to go on a mission trip,” she says. “I’m just blessed that I was able to come this time. People have always been good to me over the years. I wanted to do something to give back.”
But it almost didn’t happen.
On June 17, 2004, Prentice was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Over the next six months, she endured surgeries, chemotherapy and countless visits to her oncologist.
Finally, on Dec. 15, Prentice’s doctor declared her cancer officially in remission. Today, as a missionary working in Myakka, Prentice dons a pastel yellow T-shirt with Tweety Bird hoisting a barbell.
“I said from the very beginning that I was going to beat this,” she says. “I had the strength, the determination, and I was at peace with God. I’m still not at 100%, so I can’t do much. But I help package the food and deliver the food, and I can paint a little here and there.”
It’s a blessing to be here to help,” Prentice says. “It’s like a revival for me. A refurbishment. A renewal.”
All Our Park
Theodore Isaac’s face brightens when he sees Rosemeyer’s van approaching. Since the hurricanes, Isaac, two of his friends and two dogs have lived on a dirt lot on a corner in Arcadia’s poorest section. They’ve claimed a few sofas, a rusted bicycle and other assorted trash as their only possessions. On a tree in the center of the lot, the friends posted a sign that reads, “All Our Park.” Every night, they heat up whatever food they can find on an old grill they acquired.
“Hey!” Isaac’s voice booms when Rosemeyer and her volunteers open their car doors.
“We’ve got food,” Rosemeyer replies, smiling. “We’ve got hot food.”
Although Isaac’s two companions approach the vehicles almost immediately, Isaac quickly wraps his arm around Prentice. They share a friendly hug that lasts for several minutes. Isaac points out one of his dogs.
“Do you want a dog?” he asks. “Do you want a couch? I have a couch.”
“No, no, we don’t need your couch,” Rosemeyer tells him. “Come here, Isaac, I have food for you. And I have hot dogs for you to cook later.”
“Awww, thank you, thank you,” he says, taking the bags.
After a few more minutes of chitchat and a few snapshots, Rosemeyer and the missionaries return to their vehicles.
“We’ll see you later, Isaac,” she says.
Rosemeyer isn’t exactly sure how Isaac and his friends ended up homeless. But, to her, it really doesn’t matter.
“He’s a character,” she says as she drives away, never accelerating more than 20 mph. As she steers, her head swivels from side to side, looking for more people in need. After rounding a corner, Rosemeyer slows down at a huge pile of trash and debris sitting in front of a dilapidated trailer.
“How many are in there?” Rosemeyer asks when a woman peeks her head out the door.
Back at the church, Molly’s parents, Bob and Roxie Gerber, and her brother, David, are completing work on the donation facility. The additional space will help keep Rosemeyer’s ministry organized.
“When it started, I had stuff piled to the ceiling in every room in my house,” she says. “There was just one little path from one room to another.”
However, in recent months, donations have slowed, and now, with the added distribution help from the missionaries, Rosemeyer is running out of donations.
“We need any kind of food, clothing, baby products — especially diapers,” she says. “And we could always use volunteers.”
Although some hurricane victims have been able to re-roof their homes and repair most of the damage of last summer’s storms, impoverished residents such as Isaac weren’t able to replace what they lost.
“The saddest part is seeing the little ones,” Prentice says. “We’ve shed a tear or two (here). It’s very emotional.”
Bob Gerber says he hopes the experience is an educational one for his children.
“It gets us out of our element,” he says. “The kids are having their eyes opened.”
With a handful of sandwiches, Molly steps up onto a porch, where five Arcadia residents sit, watching cars roll by. She hands each of them a sandwich, then returns to the vehicles for the grocery sacks she helped pack at the church.
“Thank you,” one of the residents calls out between bites.
Above, the graying sky threatens an afternoon shower. With the food donations gone, Rosemeyer and the volunteers take a left onto State Road 70 and head back to Myakka City. As the vehicles accelerate west, the downed trees and trash piles become fewer with every passing mile, and when they finally stop outside the church, the world outside is completely different.
Laughter and joyous screams from the elementary school playground break the afternoon silence. Inside the church, paint tarps cover the pews. Outside, a chorus of hammers, screwdrivers and other tools promises a better, more efficient relief operation for this summer’s hurricane season.
“All the glory goes to God,” Prentice says. “This really lets the light of God shine through.”
Although this is Prentice’s first mission trip, it certainly won’t be her last.
“I had never been to Florida before,” she says. “I wouldn’t have to think twice about doing this again.
“Whenever I leave, I always tell people, ‘Love ya,’” she says. “It surprises some people, but I say it anyway. And I mean it, too. We’re all of God, and if we have faith in God, everything will be alright.”