It was fitting, said Pastor Mark Williams, that to mark 50 years of the United Church on Marco Island, the event they held was open to the entire community.
“For the last 50 years as a church, we have been a church that has been in and for the community,” he said. “In 2017, $243,000, over a quarter of a million dollars, was emptied out from this church to serve the community.”
The event the church held was a breakfast on Wednesday morning to celebrate the church’s 50th anniversary, in the fellowship hall at their campus on N. Barfield Drive that often hosts political gatherings, the annual shell show, and other community events – and there’s that word again. Williams gave an invocation before breakfast, asking that “we continue to be the church God has commanded us to be.”
About 120 people gave $15 each to attend the breakfast, enjoy bacon, eggs, sausage and fruit from Stonewalls, and hear from the keynote speaker, Collier County Commissioner Donna Fiala, as well as Marco Island City Council Chairman Jared Grifoni. Introducing Grifoni, Williams told how his children and “Jared and Elsa’s kids attended Vacation Bible School together – and got into trouble together.”
Grifoni, in brief remarks, said that when he was elected to the City Council in 2016, “I never expected Hurricane Irma – the worst storm since Donna, with all respect to Commissioner Donna Fiala.
“Tell us what you want,” he said to his constituents, urging them to communicate with council members, “or you leave it up to us.”
Fiala was introduced by Russ Rainey, chairman of the church’s men’s fellowship group, who noted she is “the only commissioner we’ve had in this century.”
Saying that unlike Hurricane Donna, “I’m not a big bag of wind,” Fiala lauded the community spirit of Marco Island, as opposed to what she encounters on the mainland.
“Marco Island sticks together. When push comes to shove, everybody sticks together. You don’t see that on the other side,” she said, also noting that the island is “always celebrating something.”
Fiala, who can deliver a 45-minute talk at the drop of a microphone, then proceeded to cover some of the legislative work and priorities in her district.
“I also represent Copeland,” she said, asking who in the crowd had been there, or even knew of its existence. “I never knew Copeland existed until just before I got elected. It’s the poorest community around, almost destitute. They have 71 percent unemployment, and they don’t even have mail service.”
Goodland, on Marco Island but outside the city limits, is “the fun spot of Collier County,” she said. “Everybody knows Stan’s.” Roadwork, now the county has taken responsibility back from the city, and a new water system are in the works.
Fiala spoke of her mostly fruitless efforts to convince commercial developers that what people want in “restaurant row” and nearby parcels near the Collier Boulevard/U.S. 41 intersection is sit down restaurants, not takeout establishments.
“I said you have mostly retirees. The women are sick and tired of cooking. I called up the Texas Roadhouse and said ‘how are you doing?’ They said not too good – ‘it’s the offseason, and we only have a 10 to 15-minute wait.’ Restaurants would kill for a 10 to 15-minute wait.”
Speaking of Collier Boulevard, Fiala said, “you know the washboard road, 951 – bump-bump-bump.” She has been trying to get the Florida Department of Transportation to fix it, “but please – try not to fix it during season.”
Concerning improving Marco’s ambulance service, she said, “just do it yourself. The county has no objection if you establish your own EMS.”
One wall of the fellowship was covered with a host of plaques from Habitat for Humanity, which has been a continuing recipient of United Church charitable funds. Other organizations that have benefited, said Williams, include the YMCA’s youth center, Marco Island Academy for scholarships, and the Our Daily Bread food pantry on the island. A major source for the donations is the Bargain Basket, the thrift shop on Bald Eagle Drive operated by the church.
The church will hold additional events to mark its golden jubilee, as a 50th anniversary is known, including the “50 Years of Fashion” Bargain Basket fashion show on Feb. 22, with a $30 ticket price, and a community luncheon following worship services on March 18.
For more information, call United Church of Marco Island at 394-6572.