Square Foot Ministry ‘Blitz Builds’ in Port Saint Joe

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The group joins together to raise the newly framed walls: (L-R) David Venables (with Lowe’s corporate office), Doug Higgins, Charlie Ginn, Denton Erickson, Faye Livingston.  They are moving the first exterior wall into place. Photo/Square Foot Ministry.
The group joins together to raise the newly framed walls: (L-R) David Venables (with Lowe’s corporate office), Doug Higgins, Charlie Ginn, Denton Erickson, Faye Livingston.  They are moving the first exterior wall into place. Photo/Square Foot Ministry.

What started out as just a bunch of 2×4’s in the parking lot of Fayetteville First United Methodist Church on June 27, 2020, became a house in Port Saint Joe, Florida, the week of July 8-10.

The “Three-Day Blitz Build” provided a new 784 square foot house for a resident in his 70s (we’ll call him Mr. C) whose home was severely damaged by Hurricane Michael on October 10, 2018.

<b>The Before — the home was habitable but only because of the temporary tarps that replaced the blown-away roof. All photos/Square Foot Ministries.</b>
The Before — the home was habitable but only because of the temporary tarps that replaced the blown-away roof. All photos/Square Foot Ministries.

Approximately 25 volunteers from Fayetteville First United Methodist Church and Providence United Methodist Church assembled the walls in the FFUMC parking lot on June 27. The completed walls were transported to Port Saint Joe on a trailer.

Over 80 volunteers with Square Foot Ministry (SFM), including 20 people from Fayette County, and America’s Home Place offices in Georgia, Florida, and Alabama converged on Port Saint Joe to raise the walls, add the overhead trusses and roof decking, and put the siding on the house. At the same time, local trades people installed the electrical wiring, the plumbing, the HVAC, and the interior drywall.

<b>The front of the house before the porch was put on. (L-R) Russ Eubanks, Wesley Aycock, Craig Wiley, Jacob Hartley, James Hartley.</b>
The front of the house before the porch was put on. (L-R) Russ Eubanks, Wesley Aycock, Craig Wiley, Jacob Hartley, James Hartley.

When the week was over, the only things left to do were roof shingles, the flooring, the kitchen cabinets, and the appliances. That work is being done during the week of July 13.

The new house, which will be an IBHS “Fortified Home,” is being built in front of the existing house. The old house will be demolished once Mr. C moves in sometime during the next two weeks.

The “blitz build,” sponsored by Square Foot Ministry and America’s Home Place, was a joint effort with the Alabama-West Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church (AWFUMC), the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), and Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH).

Mr. C came to the attention of the Alabama West Florida Conference’s Disaster Case management as a result of a community needs assessment conducted by World Renew Disaster Response Services (DRS) in partnership with the local long-term recovery organization, the Citizens of Gulf County Recovery Team.

<b>The back of the house before we put the doors and windows in.</b>
The back of the house before we put the doors and windows in.

World Renew DRS is a faith-based organization that assists communities with needs assessments following disasters. Because Mr. C lived in his home at the time of the disaster, October 10, 2018, was uninsured, has clear title to his home and property, and lacked personal resources to advance his recovery, it was determined he was a perfect candidate to be assisted by the Conference’s disaster recovery program. It should be noted Mr. C will utilize his FEMA disaster grant funds to support a portion of the rebuild cost.

In consultation with a licensed contractor, Bud Mitchell, the construction coordinator with the AWFUMC, determined that the existing house could not be repaired and had to be demolished.

When asked why SFM decided to go to the Gulf Coast, Executive Director Jeff Williams said, “While most of Square Foot Ministry’s activities take place in Fayette and surrounding counties south of Atlanta, hurricane rebuilds are in our DNA. Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, SFM volunteers and donors partnered to frame over 25 new homes on the Mississippi gulf coast. When we were made aware of the ongoing need in Port Saint Joe, we jumped at the opportunity.” According to Doug Higgins, one of the founds of Square Foot Ministry, there are plans to work with UMCOR to build more houses this year and next year.”

Square Foot Ministry became aware of this opportunity through David Millican, head of Facilities Management in the corporate offices of Chick-fil-A. He and his staff have helped Square Foot Ministry on projects in Griffin, Georgia. Millican contacted Higgins and Williams to discuss options.

After an on-site visit and discussions with the pastor of First United Methodist Church of Port Saint Joe and representatives of the AWFUMC, the SFM Board of Directors approved the project in May 2020. SFM funded the framing package (the 2×4’s for the walls) with the balance of the funding coming from the AWFUMC and UMCOR.

<b> The workers pose for a group portrait. At far left are Jeff Williams (Executive Director) in the white shirt and that’s Maggie Clark in the blue shirt.</b>
The workers pose for a group portrait. At far left are Jeff Williams (Executive Director) in the white shirt and that’s Maggie Clark in the blue shirt.

First United Methodist Church of Port Saint Joe hosted the team by providing housing and meals. Vicki Abrams, the case manager assigned by UMCOR, coordinated all activities not related to construction. Other staff with the church and the AWFUMC assisted and are continuing to coordinate teams coming in to do the remaining work on the house.

Hurricane Michael slammed into the Gulf Coast as a Category 5 hurricane on October 10, 2018. During the last two years, the United Methodist Church has had boots on the ground helping to rebuild in Florida and Southwest Georgia. In February 2020, a group from Fayetteville First United Methodist Church worked on projects in the Donalsonville/Bainbridge area in Southwest Georgia.

There is still much work to be done in Southwest Georgia and on the Florida Gulf Coast. For more information about on-going recovery efforts in Georgia, visit https://www.sgaumc.org/disasterresponse. For information on Florida, visit https://www.awfumc.org/michaelrecovery. — Written by Maggie Clarke, a member of the board of Square Foot Ministry.