Pictured above: Hurricane Idalia damage in Cedar Key community.
CEDAR KEY–The city of Cedar Key is a quiet community nestled among many tiny keys on the Gulf Coast of Florida. Long admired for its natural beauty and protected sanctuaries, it is now a community working together to help those on the island rebuild their lives.
Mere hours after Hurricane Idalia moved through the region on Aug. 30, Billy Dalton, pastor of First Baptist Church of Cedar Key, and his wife sprang into action. Since last Wednesday, the church campus has been the primary relief hub on the island, collecting and distributing supplies on an all-day basis.
The church has received water, fans, pet food, cleaning and yard supplies, paper goods, diapers, food, and other necessities. The church has coordinated with other local churches and businesses on the island to provide three hot meals a day and has even hosted food trucks.
We pray that this is a defining moment for us to be a light.
More than a week removed from the Idalia, Dalton hopes to now shift from everyday feeding to assisting residents long-term. With a desire to move past triage mode, the church is seeking to serve alongside those in their community as they develop their new normal on the island—long-term.
“For all these communities, it’s going to be a long process of rebuilding,” he said.
With short-term rental homes damaged, local restaurants boarded up, and the booming tour boat industry out of function, many in the Cedar Key community will be without income and support as tourism comes to a halt. Because of this, the church is expecting their mercy ministry expenses to increase as they seek to help full-time residents get back on their feet.
“Normal will now look different due to Cedar Key being a tourism-driven community,” Dalton said. “We want to use everything we have, all the resources available to us, to bless our community.”
Beyond the island
As the church continues to meet the practical and tangible needs right in front of them in Cedar Key, they have also found many opportunities to make an impact outside the small island.
Desiring to share in the overflow of resources they have received, the church has sent numerous loads, even re-routing critical supplies, to several churches and the neighboring communities of Suwannee, Steinhatchee, Keaton and Horseshoe Beach. In many of these hard-hit areas, members from First Baptist Cedar Key were the first on the scene supplying tangible resources and aid within hours.
“God has blessed us in so many ways to help other local churches and communities,” Dalton said. “God has been so gracious to us.”
This is not the only means by which God has been gracious to the church in Cedar Key.
‘A light on a hill’
Dalton, who served previously with the International Mission Board for nine years, has worked hard over the past six years revitalizing First Baptist Cedar Key. In establishing meaningful church membership and a steady diet of biblical teaching, the church has grown from 40 to over 100 and has become a healthy, multi-generational congregation.
In desiring to walk faithfully and point people to Christ, Dalton believes that God is utilizing First Baptist Cedar Key to play an integral role in restoring and serving their community.
“God has allowed us to shine in loving and serving the community in a tangible way,” he said. “Christ is being glorified through this devastation.”
As residents begin to rebuild their lives, Dalton said he wants to be a light for the community and give them hope.
“Our church is literally a light on a hill,” he continued. “A year from now, we pray that this is a defining moment for us to be a light.”