Scientology steps into hurricane relief vacuum to help Clearwater storm victims

CLEARWATER, Fla. (WFLA) – Hundreds of Hurricane Irma victims in Clearwater who haven’t had power since Saturday enjoyed hot food, cold ice and free water Wednesday, courtesy of what some might consider an unlikely source, the Church of Scientology.

“We’re just doing whatever we can to relieve the burden and the disaster,” said Scientology Spokeswoman Pat Harney.

Some Scientology critics will likely write off the relief effort as a publicity stunt by an organization that’s badly in need of bolstering its public image due to recent land use conflicts with the City of Clearwater and scathing documentaries by TV star and former Scientologist Leah Remini.

But that would be a hard sell in the economically depressed Greenwood neighborhood.

Residents insist there has been no outreach effort by the Red Cross, Salvation Army or other private relief organizations, but Scientology volunteers have spent days cleaning up storm debris from streets and yards.

All day Wednesday, they served up a hot BBQ feast to hundreds of storm victims who haven’t had a warm meal since Saturday.

“It means a lot that they care. They care about all the community, they care about me and what’s going on,” said Jennifer Lee.

Scientologists also went door to door, handing out 300 bags of ice Tuesday and brought 2500 more bags Wednesday, along with hundreds of jugs of water.

Other work crews continued picking up brush and storm debris and even covered the roof of the Drew Ridge Apartments, where hurricane winds tore off the tar paper and sent it crashing into cars below.

“I was flabbergasted,” said resident Dick Bieritz. ”We’re very fortunate, because otherwise we’d still be sitting open.”

Disabled veteran David Pooser was emotionally overcome by the help he received.

“They raked my yard. They raked the whole street and packed it up and gave me three bags of ice,” Pooser said. “I can’t believe it.”

The Red Cross is helping victims of Hurricane Irma at the Ross Norton Recreational Center, located at 1426 South MLK Jr. Avenue in Clearwater.

The Red Cross said the organization is planning for mobile or fixed feeding locations as soon as the services can be mobilized.

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