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Apr 29, 2024 01:57PM ● By Daniela J. Jaeger

Congregations together at SCUCC. Photo by Chip Roach

Together we are strong

It was a privilege to attend the 2024 Interfaith Shared Scholar Program, “Learnings from a Natural Disaster: Faith Communities Post-Hurricane Ian,” held at Sanibel Congregational United Church of Christ on Sanibel. The Charitable Foundation of the Islands funded some of the group’s earliest efforts. The program is now funded by private donations with help and support from the island congregations. A special thank you to Bat Yam Temple of the Islands member June Rosner and the Leo Rosner Foundation for sponsoring this event.
Pat Boris, founding member of Interfaith Outreach of San Cap, provided an introduction detailing the history of this program. Janice Block Chaddock, Bat Yam’s president, moderated the event, which included time for reflection and sharing as the panel participants discussed how natural disasters such as Hurricane Ian impact faith communities. I was touched by the stories of how our local congregations handled preparations for the storm, evacuations, watching the news from afar, and wondering how their buildings would survive, and then dealing with the aftermath, as well as making sure to contact the members of each congregation who decided to stay on the island.

Left to right: Pat Boris, founder of Cap Temple Interfaith Outreach of San Cap; Janice Block Chaddock, president of Bat Yam of the Island; Rev. Bill Van Oss of Saint Michael & All Angels Church; Rabbi Sunny Schnitzer of Bat Yam Temple of the Islands; Mary Miller of Christian Science Church; Rev. Dr. Doug Dortch of Chapel by the Sea; Rev. Dr. Mark Boyea of Sanibel Congregational UCC. / Photo by Sue Van Oss

Like the businesses and homes on the islands and across Southwest Florida that were damaged or even wiped out by Ian, Sanibel’s churches, temple, chapel, and congregations had to navigate loss, heartbreak, and cleanup challenges. One word resonated with me through the Interfaith program, and it sticks with me today: hope. Though they represented different faiths, this diverse group of spiritual leaders was unified in hope and in their service to our communities.

Toward the end of the program, the panel took questions and comments from attendees. Maria Espinoza, executive director of FISH of SANCAP, expressed the support of her organization. After the program I just wanted to thank all the participants deeply for their service and messages of HOPE. I was raised hearing the phrase, “Sharing is caring.” And it struck me right then that what was shared at this event came straight from their hearts. I wanted the panel and attendees to know that since “sharing is caring,” they were all share-givers as well as caregivers.
We owe our local congregations many thanks for providing guidance and hope in our spiritual storms as well as in the storms of nature.

Daniela Jaeger, Group Publisher of TOTI Media