By Marlene Quaroni | Catholic News Service
NORTH MIAMI, Fla. (CNS) — Thanks to Father Fritz Bellonce, pastor of Holy Family Church in North Miami, many people in the area around the church had hot meals after Hurricane Irma knocked out power to the community.
“The stores and restaurants are closed,” he said. “People are eating potato chips, peanut butter, crackers, canned food, snacks, whatever nonperishables that you don’t have to cook. A hot meal, right now, is a welcome luxury.”
Father Bellonce learned from a previous hurricane-related experience. As a seminarian in 2005 at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary near Boynton Beach, he saw long lines of hungry, tired people waiting outside the few open restaurants in Palm Beach County after Hurricane Wilma struck.
Before Hurricane Irma arrived, he got ready: He bought 200 pounds of rice, lots of beans, pork, chicken, turkey and cooking ingredients — dishes that are popular in Holy Family’s predominantly Haitian-American community.
“I knew the first place people in need come to is the church,” he told the Florida Catholic newspaper. “We share what we have. We practice what we preach.”
He prepared to serve even as Holy Family’s circular church building suffered severe roof damage.
“There’s a hole in the ceiling, and a puddle of water was inside the gift shop,” Father Bellonce said. “One of the seven air-conditioning units on the church roof blew completely apart.”
Volunteers arrived on Monday to help clean up debris on church and school grounds. In the Holy Family schoolyard, a group of young men from a parish organization, TAF-The Atoma (Greek for “unbreakable”) Family, cleared heavy tree branches.
Also clearing debris around the school were Holy Family School principal Doreen Roberts and her two granddaughters. So was assistant principal Casey McCoy.
Father Bellonce, with the help of seminarian Alix Sylien from St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami, rounded up volunteers to cook meals in the parish hall kitchen.
Serving Holy Family was a natural for Sylien: It’s his home parish, and he was assigned there during the summer. He delivered meals in his SUV throughout the neighborhood.
“Many people don’t have transportation to get to the church,” Father Bellonce said. “Alix has been a great help.”
Those who did have cars, like Jean Beaubrun, picked up the hot food from the parish hall’s kitchen take-out window.
“This is a blessing,” said Beaubrun, who carried three take-out boxes: for himself, his wife and their 9-year-old son.
Quaroni is on the staff of the Florida Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Miami and the dioceses of Orlando, Palm Beach and Venice.