When severe storms spawned tornadoes across several Southern states April 27, killing more than 300 people and devastating entire towns, John Stramiello wanted to help.
"I talked it over with my wife, and we decided that I should go," said Stramiello, who heads Behind the Stone Ministries in Spring Hill, which feeds more than 75 needy families in Hernando County each week.
Learning that Gilbert Abrueo from Night Runners Mobile Crisis Services and Disaster Relief in Citrus County was seeking team members to leave the following Sunday to provide relief to victims and rescue workers, Stramiello, 51, decided to join that effort.
"I called Reverend Gilbert, and he needed someone to pull one of his trailers," Stramiello said. "I happen to have an F-150 pickup truck, so I said I would do that."
Abrueo's team consisted of his wife, Evelyn; Ethan Harrold; Josh Hofstede, and Stramiello. The ministry has three trailers: a kitchen, a logistics mobile unit and one to carry all-terrain and utility vehicles, generators and other equipment.
"(Abrueo) was in the process of getting ready for the hurricane season," Stramiello said. "It usually takes about two weeks to do this. When a tornado hit, he had two days to do two weeks of getting stuff together."
After getting the word that Crosspointe Church in Ringgold, Ga., north of Atlanta, was requesting help, Abrueo took his team to set up camp. It was 2 miles from the hardest-hit area.
"When we went in to take a look, we saw total destruction and devastation," Stramiello said. "The tornado was about a mile long, and it ripped the town and then split in half. The other part went to Cherokee Valley."
The damage there was even worse.
"We went up to take a look at it," Stramiello said. "It had gotten into the valley, and it couldn't get out and went back and forth like a weed-whacker. We saw foundations and maybe half a mile down was the house. It was just total devastation."
For the four days he was there, Stramiello helped feed victims and workers and handed out water and tarps. He did it in Jesus' name, he said.
There was support from local churches as well.
"There was a lot of outpouring — a lot of people, a lot of food, a lot of help," he said.
Abrueo, who stayed on, has been providing relief in several areas for the past two weeks and is now based in Decatur, Ala.
"Most of the distribution sites are closed down now, because most people have electricity and are getting their insurance money," Abrueo said. "So it's manageable for the churches there."
Now his focus is on areas that are expecting to be flooded.
"I'll be working with Florida-3 Airboat Search and Rescue to partner with the (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) to do animal rescue for the animals that will be evacuating the areas that are flooded," he said.
He is expecting a team of 11 people, mostly youths, from Grace World Outreach Church in Brooksville to join him today.
"They're coming with two trucks and donations," Abrueo said. "They are going to help me relocate to northern Louisiana. We're committed to two more weeks for the flood victims."
Abrueo said it takes the efforts of many people to put together a relief effort. A local businessman, Tom Collard, delivered 100 tarps to the ministry in Alabama. Grace World Outreach Church collected offerings and supplies from its congregation. James and Tamara Slayton, from the church, put together the strike team that will aid Abrueo. Jerry and Merle Hammett helped with preparation for the initial deployment.
Winners Church International of West Palm Beach financed three weeks of the deployment.
While Abrueo always has volunteers and donations of supplies, cash is needed for things such as equipment maintenance, propane, food items and containers for distributing the food.
The needs of the victims are great, he said.
"In Ringgold, people lost their jobs. All the businesses that paid them are wiped out. So this devastation and flooding is going to bring a whole new class of homeless people to our country."
Help is always welcome, Abrueo said, including prayers.
"We are so blessed to have our homes and family untouched from the terrible trials that these people are facing now," Abrueo wrote in a letter to supporters. "Their lives have been disrupted, and they have an enormous challenge ahead to rebuild their lives. Please pray for them and pray for our team that will be demonstrating the love of Christ in action."