by Chelsi Mason, OCU Junior, majoring in Emergency & Disaster Management and Business
Residing in central Ohio, a team of Ohio Christian University students had no immediate opportunities to respond to disasters inflicted by hurricanes. But on November 25, 2017, these members of the Ohio Christian University Emergency Management program flew to Puerto Rico to assist The Salvation Army with distribution of food and water to the Puerto Rican towns of Juncos, Humacao, and Las Piedras. Shortly after the OCU team’s arrival, cadets from The Salvation Army joined force to help change the lives of local residents impacted by hurricane Maria.
For many of the OCU students this trip was a plethora of firsts. These included setting a record for the most meals distributed throughout the community so far. During the first short week, an astounding 115,887 meals were distributed along with 129,997 cases of water. With temperatures reaching the high eighties, the relief teams joined together to reach those residents stranded in valleys and mountain tops.
These records could not have been achieved if it was not for the hard work and determination from individuals and groups around the country. From those in the warehouse, to those on the frontlines in operations teams, volunteers were there to relieve the community. Throughout six days, 174 Salvation Army volunteers, which included OCU’s EM members, AmeriCorp, local volunteers, and the Washington Conservation Corp, contributed a remarkable 1,387 hours to assisting Puerto Rico.
During this time, there were multiple encounters that affected the volunteers. Many encounters were spiritually eye-opening and influenced people by expanding their horizons and thinking. The volunteers encountered once-in-a-life-time experiences in the mountains of Las Piedras.
“We noticed the rock and were amazed at the fact that it could have stopped right before it smashed into a house,” explains OCU EM student Brooke Lezotte. “There is no way it didn’t have enough momentum to carry it through the house from the size of the hill it rolled down. However, even in the 90-degree heat, I got goosebumps when we noticed the statue of Jesus placed right in front of the house. His arms were stretched out and they were broken at the elbows. It was an incredible example that was a reminder of how much Jesus sacrificed for us and how we experience his miracles even today.”
OCU EM team member Cayla Allen describes another greatly affecting incident. While distributing food and water to a community her team encountered a family with an older woman and a young boy. The young boy had lost his family during the hurricane and has yet to locate them. The woman took the boy into her home and is being a surrogate mother to him. Allen explains that “This is an example of the spiritual role we fill while delivering food and water. As members of a Christian organization, for us moments like these not only mean something to the people we are serving, but also they change who we are as members of God’s army: The Salvation Army.”
The people of Puerto Rico have shown strength and resilience in the face of great adversity. They may not have power, but they have each other and the support of friends and family. Lending a helping hand is only the beginning, and for now, that is enough.
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