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The biggest gift of all: Mennonite Disaster Service volunteers

December 26, 2019

For people in Marianna, Florida, MDS volunteers are the biggest Christmas gift of all. As 20-year-old Chris Whitehead worked alongside the MDS crew removing shingles from his grandmother’s house, he shared his harrowing storm story. 

Whitehead and 19 other members of the extended family stayed in the house when Hurricane Michael tore through in October 2018. “By 8 a.m., the wind was up to 80 mph. A huge tree fell and shook everything inside. Then the winds got up to 170 mph. We had opened the windows to relieve the pressure in the house. When I tried to block the door from opening, the wind almost sucked me through the window.” 

They stayed because his grandfather, Gerald McFarland, who was fighting cancer, was too ill to evacuate. McFarland, known as G-Mac to his family and throughout the community, died in November 2019, just a few days before the MDS crew arrived to help. 

This will be the family’s first Christmas without him. 

Whitehead’s grandmother, Sheila McFarland, couldn’t hold back tears as she talked with the MDS crew, crying with happiness at the sight of some helping hands, and at the same time grieving for her late husband. “I don’t know what we would have done,” she said. “G-Mac was so sick, we went from an income of $1,700 a week to $1,700 a month.” 

McFarland insisted on making the volunteers hamburgers and hotdogs for lunch, and later delivered a thank-you card, on which she wrote: “May God bless each and every one of you. Y’all have blessed me more than I can ever say or deserve. From the bottom of my heart, thank you!”