To welcome a safe and warm sanctuary for the community to worship and get together, the SanCap Chamber celebrated the opening of The Gathering Place at St. Michael & All Angels Church, 2304 Periwinkle Way on Sanibel Island, Friday, July 21.


“In the first weeks after the hurricane, we quickly realized that besides so many losing their possessions, their homes, cars, and belongings, they also had lost a sense of community, of gathering – since there was no place to gather on the island,” said Rev. Bill Van Oss, St. Michael’s rector since July 2020.


“Once we found out our Noah’s Ark Thrift Shop could be repaired fairly quickly from its extensive damage, we decided to temporarily open it as The Gathering Place, not just for St. Michael’s to use for our worship services, office space, and meetings, but to open it to the community as a space to come and be together, where everyone belongs and feels welcome.”


The Gathering Place opened July 17 as space where F.I.S.H. could meet with clients and serve post-hurricane needs every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Island Seniors, displaced from its Center 4 Life facility, will run programming and events on Tuesdays and Thursdays. St. Michael also will host free community events like Coffeehouse Music Nights, featuring local musicians and serving coffee drinks on July 26 and Aug. 9 and 23 from 6:30 to 8 p.m.


The main church building sustained heavy damage from 5-1/2 feet of water surge and wind. The stained-glass windows and walls of the sanctuary miraculously survived, but the flooring and foundation was damaged due to the hydrostatic pressure underneath. Rev. Van Oss hopes to restore the sanctuary and accompanying buildings by the first quarter of 2024. At that time, Noah’s Ark Thrift Shop will return to its original purpose.


“The community has been a support to us, from Peace Lutheran in Fort Myers that took us in the week after Ian and has hosted us ever since, to the city of Sanibel leadership, who have helped us with our rebuilding plans,” said Rev. Van Oss. “Everyone at the chamber has done a wonderful job of keeping the island together and keeping hope alive.”


“I was married at St. Michael, so I have a personal deep attachment to the ministry,” said John Lai, chamber president and chief executive officer. “But my admiration goes much further — for the work they do for the community as a whole, beyond their congregation needs. I congratulate them for this important step toward a full comeback.”



The Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce is dedicated to promoting the prosperity of its members and preserving the quality of life of our community. The Chamber plays a key role in facilitating communication and cooperation between business, residents, and government to enhance the economic health of the islands. Its website,, receives over 1.3 million visits per year. For more information about the chamber, visit or contact John Lai, president and CEO, at 239-472-2348 or [email protected].