GREENFIELD — They put out the call to action Thursday afternoon: Park Chapel Christian Church needs 800 pounds of food by Saturday morning.
In fewer than 48 hours, the community responded enthusiastically, donating over 1,000 pounds of canned meat, peanut butter and other nonperishable food items destined to support the storm-ravaged residents of Puerto Rico, which was slammed by the unusually strong Hurricane Maria nearly a month ago.
The five people headed to the island, all Greenfield residents, stuffed sturdy plastic totes full of the food, then when those could hold no more, they tucked crackers and rice between their clothes and shoes in their own luggage.
Story continues below gallery
They didn’t know if the mission trip to Puerto Rico would be possible, but things just kept falling into place: their contact on the island said their destination was safe and accessible, then the airline told organizers not only would their tickets be honored, their luggage fees would be waived, and the luggage weight limit per person would be doubled to 100 pounds. Despite the destruction, it seemed like their intention to help in any way possible would happen after all.
Charlie Ketchen and Kara Hackleman started planning the mission trip to Puerto Rico last year.
Ketchen, a youth minister at Park Chapel Christian Church, knew a pair of missionaries living on the island and wanted to plan a cross-cultural mission trip especially for the Greenfield church’s high school seniors. They had expected to do community outreach during after-school programs with seniors, but everything changed with the devastation brought by the Category 5 storm, Hackleman said.
Ketchen’s missionary friend, Anna Ritter, called before Maria hit and warned Ketchen: this one was going to be bad.
Ketchen, Hackleman and the three seniors planning to go on the trip — Cameron Hackleman, Savannah Watts and Sean Paul — watched and prayed as first Hurricane Irma hit, then Maria scoured Puerto Rico’s 3,500 square miles, bringing tornado-force winds for some 30 hours. With power and phone service down to most of the country’s residents, it took days before Ritter was able to let folks on the mainland know they were all right in Levitown, a city outside of San Juan.
Puerto Rico residents hardly know where to begin to recover from the historic storm, Ketchen said. He worried if they flew to the island, they might be in the way, but his friends assured him their help would be welcomed. The group members want to bring not only much-needed supplies to the area but a hopeful message as well: Puerto Rico has not been forgotten, and people are ready to help, Hackleman said.
“The doors have been opened,” Hackleman said. “We’re all excited to go and see what we can do.”
They could be delivering food and clean water to housebound residents, or they might be asked to help pick up branches and debris. It all depends on what the residents need, she said.
The five members of the mission trip are used to being put to work. The three seniors and two leaders have traveled to Native American reservations in Arizona as well as sites in Tennessee, Mexico and Haiti to lend their hands and their faith to populations in need.
Watts, a Greenfield-Central High School senior, said her heart has broken for the families devastated by the powerful storm. She hopes to give whatever is needed most, whether it’s another pair of hands to help clean up damage or comfort as residents begin to process the effects of the storm on their lives.
“I want to give as much love as I possibly can to whoever needs it,” she said.
Kara Hackleman has seen the impact mission trips can have on young students. She knows the work can be exhausting, but the 17- and 18-year-olds will grow emotionally and spiritually by lending their hand to the recovery efforts.
As the group departed from the church Saturday morning, they felt the support and love of their church and community. In fewer than two days, people provided more food than they could even bring along. Any food they weren’t able to take with them will be donated to God’s Open Arms ministry, which serves people in need in Greenfield and Indianapolis.