Five Ways to Help our Florida Panhandle Community

I awoke to the sound of a lawnmower.  It seemed normal yet odd considering a major hurricane had just “mowed” by us.  So began my cycle of praises and prayers since returning home.  The most intense storm to ever hit Florida made its landfall in what feels like (but thankfully is not) our back door.  Just 55 miles down the road communities appear as a war zone. Urgency and helplessness collide as people ask, “When, where and how can I help?”  Surreal best describes the emotional climate here on The Florida Panhandle.

Evacuation felt reminiscent of our military moves.  We packed the necessities to get us through a short time and left the rest behind.  Only now, there was no moving truck pulling away with our household goods.  We took a last walk through, giving a silent good bye, preparing our hearts and minds for possibly coming home to nothing. We gave it up to God and drove away in thankfulness; we had advance notice and resources to get out of harms way. We headed west to be with our niece and her family.  Our son and his wife headed the same direction but to a friend’s home, where their zoo of animals (or as we like to say, “our grand-pets”) could be accommodated.

photo credit: Northwest Florida Daily News

Returning from Alabama, signs were clear that hope is among us.  Bucket trucks, supply trailers, electrical crews, USAA mobile response units, emergency vehicles and helicopters, donation drives and more — all medicine for hurting hearts. We were relieved to see our home and neighborhood unscathed.  To the east of us, the picture is radically different.  Hurricane Michael brought 155 mph winds, 1 mph under that of a Category 5.  The aftermath is a difficult, yet necessary view, if we are to begin helping those displaced from some 1.5 million homes in Florida and beyond.  What began as devastation in The Florida Panhandle continued into Georgia, Alabama, North and South Carolina, and Virginia, with each declaring a state of emergency.

The urge is often to help where the damage and need appears greatest, but that actually hinders recovery.  Emergency response crews are working hard to rescue people and animals, and clear immediate hazards, so wide-scale clean up can begin; please don’t impede their efforts by going there.  Access is limited with roadways gone or severely obstructed. The Tyndall Air Force Base flight line was devastated and the local airport isn’t open at this point either. We must wait, pray, and help from places of safety.  For today, I want to leave you with five considerations.  Please check back on our Facebook pages to view additional local and national ways to make a difference.

  1. Communication: The National Guard has established a website to help families and friends connect to verify loved ones are safe. Click here.
  2. Housing: Airbnb is providing no-cost housing (October 8 to 29) for displaced neighbors and relief workers in Florida, Georgia, and Alabama. Click here as an evacuee or to add your rental home.
  3. Medical: Hundreds of hospitalized patients have been transferred. Volunteers can be of help at Fort Walton Beach Medical Center, Sacred Heart Pensacola, Vincent Hospital in Jacksonville and Providence Hospital in Mobile Alabama. Additionally, area nursing homes, memory care and assisted living facilities are handling a mass of admissions.  Pray for those care teams as they meet vital needs of evacuees.
  4. Supplies: Here locally, the Campus Cafe is collecting donated items to be delivered through disaster relief workers. Items can be dropped off at the Northwest Florida State College in Fort Walton Beach, building #8 (also the host of our neighborhood memory cafe).  Click here for the list.
  5. Cash: The American Red Cross and Convoy of Hope are two highly rated national charities among the first responders.  Emergency supplies such as tarps, rakes, shovels, and trash bags (as well as personal supplies) are provided by The American Red Cross.  Food, water, ice, and long-term recovery needs are top priority for Convoy of Hope.   Click here to view the “charity navigator” guide, before you give.

Thank you for being among our community of prayer warriors. Hope is an anchor for the soul.  We are working with some other folks to create a grassroots relief effort through music … more to come on that soon.

“We will rebuild. We will do whatever it takes.”

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