TARPON SPRINGS — On a recent Tuesday, Church on the Bayou Presbyterian Church was bustling with activity.
In one classroom, workers for the Shepherd Center were holding an orientation for a mentoring initiative for women. In another, a yoga class was in session.
In the library, the church's missions committee was working on the Hurricane Relief Bucket Project, an initiative designed to ensure that the Florida Presbyterian Disaster Assistance Network has enough clean-up supplies for whenever they're needed.
Recognized for the large cross painted on its roof, Church on the Bayou has fewer than 100 members in its congregation. During the cooler months, its official membership grows to 65. In summer, with the exodus of snowbirds, it dwindles below 50.
"We like to say we are tiny but mighty,'' said the Rev. Kathleen Dain, the interim pastor. Dain took over temporary leadership after longtime pastor, the Rev. Carl vom Elgen, retired in March.
The Church on the Bayou was established in 1886, when its original name was First Presbyterian Church of Tarpon Springs and it was on the corner of Tarpon and South Grosse avenues. Over the years, the church had several more moves before settling at its permanent spot in 1959 on 5 acres overlooking Whitcomb Bayou
Church on the Bayou missions include a community garden, which produces squash, beans and tomatoes to help supply several agencies that cater to the needy, including Shepherd Center and the Tampa Bay Network to End Hunger; the Beth-El Mission, which supports the Beth-El Farm Worker Ministries based in Wimauma; the Caring and Sharing ministry for neighbors who need a helping hand; and the Hurricane Relief Bucket Project.
The bucket project came about after April storms went through the Panhandle, which in two days received about 22 inches of rain, about a third of the average annual rainfall. Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency, and about 14,000 victims registered for Federal Emergency Management Agency services.
"Our members knew that a storm could easily hit here. We could easily be the ones who need help," Dain said.
One of the parishioners was able to secure 33 buckets from Home Depot and Ace Hardware, both of Tarpon Springs.
Before service on Sundays, worshippers drop off specific items, including trash bags, insect repellent and dust masks.
On June 22, the first 15 buckets filled were blessed during the worship service and have been sent to the Salvation Army in Tampa for storage.
Kathy Broyard, executive director of Florida Presbyterian Disaster Assistance Network, said congregations like Church on the Bayou's are vital during disaster recovery efforts.
"We really need churches to step up in the way they are,'' she said. "That church is really showing love and care for other human beings.''
With each bucket costing about $50 to fill, Tee Fonseca, the current chair of the missions committee, admits the project is a challenge. "It is summer, and having fewer members now makes it difficult,'' she said.
However, Fonseca also believes the small size of the church comes with benefits.
"The intimacy of a small congregation is hard to beat,'' she said. "The beauty of it is we know each others' needs and strengths, and we can capitalize on that. We often refer to this church as a family, and it is.''
The church's longest serving parishioner, 89-year-old Jean Englund, agrees that the Church on the Bayou's intimate atmosphere is its great asset. She's been a member since 1963.
"I had gone to another church before this, but I liked this one because everyone was so welcoming," Englund said. "People would walk in the front door, and the chatter would go on and on until the pastor would say 'Excuse me, welcome to Church on the Bayou.' ''