'Sweatsuit Ministry' Brings Comfort to Invisible Victims of Caribbean Storms

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Much attention has been rightly focused on providing relief to residents on Caribbean islands wrecked by this year’s hurricanes, but there are many less well-known victims of these storms closer to home.

Hundreds of residents from the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico living with chronic illnesses were evacuated to U.S. cities for treatment. About 280 were flown to Atlanta for dialysis and cancer treatments.

After learning that her brother was among the evacuees, Mary Abbot, a member of St. Teresa’s Episcopal Church in Acworth, GA alerted other parishioners to their presence.

Abbot, the wife of a retired Episcopal Priest from St. Croix, teamed up with two other women of the parish to provide culturally appropriate meals to those being housed at metro area hotels. “They are getting the care they need, but miss the foods they are used to,” Abbott said. As they delivered the meals and visited with the evacuees the women soon became aware of another need - sweat suits.

The food was a welcome reminder of home, but these medically fragile islanders are not use to sub-70s temperatures.

They provided sweat suits to as many as the parish desperate needs fund could afford, but there were still many others in need of easy-to-wear warm clothing.

So, Abbott’s small team alerted other parishes in the diocese to the clothing need. Several responded with generous checks. Moreover, priests and parishioners from Episcopal churches near the evacuees began making visits and providing Eucharist.

Armed with the added cash-in-hand the sweat suit brigade kicked back into action. With the help of Public Health Service nurses assigned to the hotels where evacuees are being housed they gathered a list of sizes. Soon, more sweat suits were being bought and delivered.

This improvised personal response to the needs of others is a reminder that there are many ways each of us is called to be the hands and feet of Christ in this world.

Caribbean medical evacuees relocated throughout the nation will be with us for months as island medical facilities are restored. That means there are still plenty of opportunities to meet their need for comfort and care – maybe right in your community. For current needs, email reporterdon@gmail.com.