Monday morning was MLK day so slept in this morning and didn’t get up until almost 7:00 am (record)! Wrote the weekly Blog and got it published and then studied for an hour. When Pam was up, we did some laundry and cleaning and at noon drove to a couple of military members’ homes, but neither were in so couldn’t confirm their status. We shopped and had lunch at Costco and then returned to our apartment in mid-afternoon. Planned to do something significant but ended up laying down and promptly going to sleep! We had a pretty quiet MLK day. Called the Mason’s in Orange Park and talked with Michael and learned about his family and status. Seemed to be a good family and would be in Jacksonville for over 2 years as an Army recruiter. Received texts from Alexis and she was celebrating a significant accomplishment at the clinic over the weekend and was doing fine.
Tuesday morning, we left for the USO at 9:30 am and the place was busy. Coast Guard personnel were helping to get ready for another food giveaway on Wednesday and those young men and women did a wonderful job throughout the day. Joyce Schellhorn (Director) opened the facility and Pam and I were the only volunteers. Throughout the morning we received donation after donation from organizations and individuals. Seemed like the back door was a loading dock as load after load of food and commodities came into the facility and were stacked in the middle of the room. A decision was made to open up the south side of the main room as the north side was completely filled with food and commodities. All non-food products were placed on the tables on the south side and the north side reserved for food items, so we spent the morning going through the donations and vetting all the food and placing the items on their respective tables. Pam worked in the office with Joyce as the phone was ringing off the wall concerning donations and she also had a floor full of small individual donations that she was going through. We also received two large donations of bread and pastries from Publix and also from a bread distribution center and the pool table and 3 other tables were awash with bread and pastry products. At 2:00 pm I made a deposit for Joyce and also helped her count gift cards she had received throughout the morning. I was astounded at the generosity of the community—hundreds of cards totaling thousands of dollars, not to mention cash and all the food and commodity donations. Two news stations came during the day interviewing several Coast Guard personnel and Mike O'Brien (Executive) about the effort to help the Coast Guard families during the government shutdown period. At 3:00 pm Joyce told us to leave as the pace slowed down considerably and we had everything sorted and taken care of.
Wednesday morning, we arrived at the USO shortly after 9:00 am. The parking lot was filling up and the Coast Guard Chiefs association was there to help with the food distribution, and it looked like they had things in hand. Joyce didn’t have anything particular for us to do, so Pam and Carmel (another volunteer) went into the kitchen and cooked “sloppy Joes” for lunch and I worked in and out of the office processing donations and helping where needed. Food distribution actually began at 9:30 am and we had a steady flow of families until 1:00 pm and it was fun watching them as they walked up and down the tables checking out the food and paper products and filling boxes, bags, shopping carts, etc. with things they needed. A great outpouring of support from the community. Around noon Joyce asked if I would go to the Navy Exchange and take 8 gift cards and have them checked to determine their value. I located Pam, the manager, and she took care of it for me and they were all $25 cards. I also made a deposit for Joyce while I was out. By 1:30 pm things had slowed down considerably, and we helped consolidate the tables and then Pam and I left for the day. Tomorrow was another food day as Feeding Northeast Florida was coming with produce and meat for the Coast Guard and all E-6 and below Navy families. We returned home to our apartment and Pam prepared a meal for the Arlington Sisters who joined us for dinner at 5:30 pm. Sister Dreiling and Abril were real characters and we enjoyed having them in our home. Sister Dreiling grew up in Colorado but was from Logan and came from a less active home and only decided on a mission recently. Sister Abril from Corona, California was a convert of a few years, so they both had stories to tell. After they left a message, we had a prayer with them and they left, and we cleaned up the kitchen and called it a night.
Thursday morning, we arrived at the USO at 9:15 am and the Feeding Northeast Florida truck was unloading in the back-parking lot and the Coast Guard Chiefs Association were helping and had 3 tents setup to cover a half dozen tables getting ready for families. We went inside and the food and commodities wings of the center were closed, and learned that patrons would be checked in and taken directly through the center to the tables out back where there was meat, fresh produce and other commodities. Dave Ostrum was running things until Joyce Schellhorn (Director) arrived about 10:00 am. We had a few other volunteers, Julie Davis and Pam from the Navy Exchange. Pam and I worked in the office, Pam checking in patrons and myself vetting donations as they came in. Julie and Pam (Exchange) took down names and other vital information for the Coast Guard and directed the families out back and Coast Guard chiefs were station at the doors and out back to help with the food distribution. We had a busy morning with hundreds of families and individuals coming for donations. Coast Guard Officers set up our grills and cooked hamburgers and hot-dogs for families, so it was a festive morning. Pam and I continued to be amazed at the generosity of the people here in the Beach Communities. Truckloads of items continued to come in and thousands of dollars’ worth of gift cards and cash were donated. At 11:30 am the event was opened to Navy families, E-6 and below, so we had another influx of people, but it wasn’t bad. I had texted Tara Alexander, Shay Tuttle, Samantha Lagae and Nikki Head about the event and Shay Tuttle came with her baby and Tony Head also attended. I made a trip to the NEX for Joyce to validate gift cards but when I returned the flow of patrons was almost ended and Coast Guard volunteers were consolidating things inside and outside to help the USO prepare for a No Dough dinner on Monday. Most of what was left would be put into the outside storage food pantry for next week’s events for the Coast Guard. The USO was committed to continuing the distribution as long as the shutdown continued. Pam and I said our goodbyes and left for the day.
Friday morning began early for us as we left the apartment at 7:30 am to perform missionary apartment inspections for 3 sets of sisters and 3 sets of elders all in the Jacksonville East Zone. We enjoy meeting the missionaries, even early in the morning and their apartments looked good with some minor issues that needed to be corrected, mainly changing filters and cleaning that needed to be done. From the last apartment we drove to the USO, arriving at 10:30 am. Dave Ostrum was there along with volunteers Carmel and Jim. Several Coast Guard personnel were loading the USO truck with food and commodities to take to a Coast Guard Helicopter Interdiction Squadron (HITRON) at Cecil Field. They also helped me set up the main room for the No Dough dinner on Monday and we were done in no time. Dave had planned to take the truck to Cecil but had injured himself and wasn’t feeling well. I told him I would make the trip. Pam was going to accompany me, but the passenger seat full of commodities also, so she stayed at the USO. I programmed the location into my phone and headed toward Cecil Field (former Naval Air Station) and wandered around a bit but eventually found the building and was met by Coast Guard personnel who quickly emptied the truck and were very appreciative of the donations. I had been on the base in 1986 for night vision training and at that time it was home to A6, A7 and A4 Attack aircraft. The drive back to the USO was uneventful, and Joyce Schellhorn (Director) was there and Dave had gone home. Pam met me and said, “guess what Joyce gave us?” I had no idea, but she opened up an envelope which had two tickets to tonight’s performance of Les Misérables at the Times-Union Center in downtown Jacksonville. We knew the national touring group was in town, but tickets were very expensive, so we never seriously considered attending. Two tickets had been donated to the USO and Joyce gave them to us—what a gift! After some discussion about Monday’s No Dough activities we said our goodbyes and left for Arlington Hills. We had a late lunch and then returned to our apartment and looked up the location of the theater and purchased some parking passes and then relaxed for the rest of the afternoon. At 6:45 pm we headed downtown, and we quickly located our parking area across the street from the theater. People were waiting inside for the Moran Theater doors to open and we watched with interest the variety of people in various styles of dress from casual to formal wear. A couple came by and looked at our name tags and introduced themselves, Steven & Deborah Mortensen. They were members from the Bartram Trails Branch of the Jacksonville South Stake. However, they had moved to St. Augustine from the Jacksonville Beach area before we arrived, and he had served as Ward Mission Leader. We had a very interesting discussion with them for about 15 minutes until the theater doors opened and then went inside and found our seats—very nice seats indeed. Our only introduction to Les Misérables was the movie which we saw a few years ago, but this performance was equally as wonderful with beautiful staging and the most wonderful music. The cast was a national traveling cast and were very professional and performed beautifully. The entire performance took just under three hours with an intermission about 90 minutes into the performance. While waiting I stood up and looked around and a lady just behind us two seats over introduced herself as “Sister Camille Alexander” from the Fort Caroline ward and a young woman next to her was a daughter-in-law from one of the Mandarin wards. Sister Alexander’s husband had been the Bishop when we arrived and was now a high councilor in the Jacksonville East Stake. We had a delightful visit with them for 10 minutes and then the production began again and proceeded to a most dramatic conclusion. It had been a wonderful evening, one we would never forget and a much appreciated the gift.
Saturday morning, we left at 8:00 am for Jacksonville Beach to finish apartment inspections with the full-time missionaries. We first met with Sisters Paulsen and Topham (Sister Davis was on exchanges with Sister Wasden). Next, we visited Sister Roderick and Horikami in the Hendricks District and then Elders Cigarroa and Castillo in the San Jose District followed by Elders Birchall and McCormick also in the San Jose District. These last three appointments were new for us, but we enjoyed meeting these young men and women. They all lived in nice facilities which had been used by missionaries for years. We were near the St. John’s Center and returned an item at Joanne’s and then headed back to Arlington Hills with a stop for lunch and also at Wal-Mart where we bought some furnace filters for the missionaries and to a Dollar Store to purchase some microwave covers, also for the missionaries. Finally, at 4:00 pm we were done and returned to our apartment for the evening. I entered the information on apartment inspection forms and emailed them to Elder Alexander, the housing coordinator. Pam started laundry and had a long visit with Ann Marie and also Erin and everyone seemed to be doing fine.
Sunday morning, we left for ward conference in the Jacksonville Beach ward in a steady rainstorm. We entered the chapel and Shay Tuttle was there with her baby, Jenny Black and Olivia, the Jarvis’ and Tyler Gneck with a friend from work. Samantha and Clive were sick today and so the Lagae’s stayed home. Sacrament began on time and we enjoyed having the stake family with us; President Heywood and counselors and others. After the ward business President Bridegan stood and conducted the sustaining of General Authorities, Stake Leaders and Ward Leaders. It was always nice to go through this process occasionally. Following the sacrament, we heard from Bishop Currie and then from President Heywood. Both gave wonderful messages and bore strong testimonies. In the second hour the adults met in the chapel and the youth in the young women’s room and the Primary did their normal thing. President Bridegan and Heywood both spoke in the adult meeting and talked about testimony bearing and the need to bear simple pure testimonies—not talks, not stories. This direction came from an area meeting in Atlanta last year presided over by Elder Bednar where this subject was emphasized. President Lee mentioned it in our last zone conference and he always encouraged missionaries to take less than a minute in bearing their testimonies. There were a couple of comments from those who insisted stories were so good, but President Heywood reiterated there was a time and place for those—talks, firesides, in family councils, etc. Testimony meetings were for pure testimony. Great council. Following the meeting we visited for a few minutes and then braved the rain and head to the Naval Station where we took lunch to Samantha Lagae. The surprise was the quiet in her home. Clive and the girls were napping. Pam fixed lunch for Sam and we visited for a few minutes and then left and returned to our apartment. We had some leftovers and a pizza for lunch/dinner and spent a quiet afternoon watching some byutv programming and napping. At 5:30 pm we stirred and dressed again to attend a musical fireside at the Beach this evening. Sister Davis and Paulsen had organized the event about a month ago and we planned to attend. Sisters Dreiling and Abrim rode with us and missionaries from the Jax East and Mandarin zones were assembling, and President & Sister Lee were there with Sister Lee’s sister. They practiced “One by One” and it was beautiful. At 7:00 pm the fireside began with Brother Simmons conducting. President Button and Bishop Currie were also on the stand. The programmed followed an opening prayer and it was a beautiful night of music and spoken word from “The Living Christ” the testimony of the first presidency and quorum of the twelve. Music consisted of a missionary choir, vocal duets, solos, small groups, instrumental pieces involving the piano, violin, cello and harp—about 12 numbers in all. Sister Newman and Elder Carter did the narration of the Living Christ between the numbers and the overall effect was wonderful. Bishop Currie was invited to offer some parting words and then following the closing prayer refreshments were provided in the back section of the cultural hall. We were also invited to attend the opening of Elder Beal’s mission call from the brethren. His 2-transfer mission had been successful, and he was recommended to continue missionary service. We met in the relief society room and Sister Lee face timed with his parents as he opened his call to the Florida Jacksonville Mission (which is what he wanted). He would enter the MTC on the 6th of February and then return to continue is mission here. He was really excited, and the missionaries were excited for him. He’s been a great missionary. We gathered up Sister Dreiling and Abril and braved the rain again and headed back to Arlington Hills where we dropped them off at their apartment and then returned to ours. It had been a wonderful day only topped by a Marco Polo call from Andrew and Sarah and family.