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Neighbors Helping Neighbors

The destruction from Hurricane Michael is overwhelming. Whole communities were leveled, homes ravaged, lives shattered. Three weeks after the monster storm destroyed much of the Florida Panhandle, entire neighborhoods are still unrecognizable. Many people are forced to rebuild their lives with literally the clothes on their back.

Hundreds of organizations and thousands of individual people throughout the country have contributed to the needs of those affected, working immediately after the storm passed to meet the urgent needs of displaced people. The town folks of Seaside are among those who have reached out beyond the county line to those who were traumatized by the devastation.

Seaside Schools, Inc. have made sandwiches, collected donations and written letters of support to first responders and those affected by the hurricane. The schools have also been working with hopepanhandle.org, a recently formed non-profit organization led by neighboring community leaders, to provide volunteers and supplies in Lynn Haven.

Seaside homeowners have offered their homes to families whose homes were destroyed. The Chapel at Seaside raised funds to provide desperately needed relief to employees of the Seaside merchants, while some of the merchants have raised necessary goods to distribute throughout the needed towns. There are countless acts of kindness that resulted from a tragedy.

Within a day of the storm passing, the maintenance team and courtesy team of Seaside sought out ways they could help with hurricane relief. Mike Henry, property manager, partnered with Regular Guys Crisis Response Team, a veteran-run group formed during Hurricane Harvey in 2017 that focuses on aiding those in need during disasters. The staffers in Seaside collected goods from local residents, vacationers and merchants, filling a trailer with the most urgently needed supplies — water, baby products, tarps, food and other items. They headed to Bonifay, a town that was hit hard but that wasn’t getting as much support as Lynn Haven, Panama City and Callaway.

“Where there were elderly people who couldn’t get out to get supplies, these guys brought the supplies to them,” Henry says. “I was just amazed at what people donated.” The trailer, parked near Modica Market, which donated many of the supplies, continues to collect items. People still need cleaning supplies, Hazmat suits, tools and baby products. “The people do have enough water,” Henry says, “But Gatorade would be nice to send them for a little flavor.”

Operation Mobile Relief Kitchen, started by Chef Jim Shirley and his team of restaurants, including Great Southern Café, Meltdown on 30A, 45 Central Wine & Sushi Bar and The Bay, and now operated by restaurants from across the state, serves 2,000 to 3,000 people per day in Port St. Joe from Shirley’s mobile kitchen at the Krazyfish Grille on Highway 98. The contributions are paid for by individual restaurants with some donations from vendors and community members.

The Chapel at Seaside raised money to help employees of Seaside merchants who had suffered structural damage to their homes. Chapel board members Jim Clemmons and Glenn Seawell canvased the town to find people directly affected by the hurricane, who were displaced or suffered structural damage. Getting the word out to church members, the board set a goal of raising $25,000 and matching those funds to get a total of $50,000. As of press time, the chapel had raised, $85,000 with 100 percent of donations going toward hurricane relief.

“The board decided we needed to get this done immediately,” says Clemmons, who along with Seawell and church business manager David Smith, dispersed the first checks within days after the hurricane. “It would be easy to donate to United Way or Samaritan’s Purse, both great organizations. But these are the people we see every day. It became much more personal with the congregation on that Sunday after the storm. People were more motivated just knowing they were helping someone they know.” The chapel has live stream video of its Sunday worship services, typically garnering around 10 viewers. “On that Sunday, we had around 500 people stream the church service,” Clemmons adds. “So many people watched it and made online contributions.”

After the initial needs are met and if there are remaining funds to be dispersed, the chapel board is discussing how to best give those funds.

The Seaside Institute also has created a hurricane relief fund to help those who have suffered loss due to Hurricane Michael. All money raised through this fund (minus any bank processing fees) will be routed to those in the panhandle who have been affected.

“The flood of help making its way to the panhandle of Florida is impressive,” says Beth Carr, executive director for the Seaside Institute. “People who would otherwise be safely in their home, with family and friends, working their way to help people they don’t know, and may never meet, regain some sense of normalcy after this devastating event. If anyone ever doubted the American spirit, an event such as this shows the world who Americans really are at our core. We are resilient, giving, caring, steadfast and determined.”

To support victims of Michael through the Seaside Institute Hurricane Relief Fund see seasideinstitute.org/hurricane-policy/ or mail a donation to: The Seaside Institute, Attention: Hurricane Relief Fund, P.O. BOX 4875, Santa Rosa Beach, FL 32459.

Seaside Transit Authority donated 40 bikes to Lynn Haven residents. “We usually sell used rental bikes for $10 to $20 and we started discussing the victims of the hurricane and how we could help,” says Rick Thompson, owner of Seaside Transit Authority. “It dawned us that travel is difficult at this time for many due to lack of gas, trees down, vehicles destroyed, etc. So we thought that bikes may help those struggling to get around. We weren’t sure what the demand would be for the bikes, but as soon as we pulled up to the distribution center on Highway 77 we were overwhelmed by people in need. In the first five minutes, a dozen bikes were given out and the rest went in a relatively short period of time.”

Duckies Shop of Fun is collecting new and gently used stuffed animals to help put smiles on the faces of little ones who were affected by the hurricane. “This is a great way to get your kids involved in serving others,” says Stacy Pritchett, owner of Duckies. The drop-off location is at Duckies in Seaside, otherwise people can mail small stuffed toys to Duckies Shop of Fun, 45 Central Square, P.O. box 4952, Santa Rosa Beach, FL 32459.

La Vie Est Belle owner Wendy Mignot and professional photographer Colleen Duffley present Pearls and Prints for a Purpose, a collaborative project to aid the victims of Hurricane Michael. Each pearl necklace by Wendy Mignot is joined with a limited edition signed print of the most beautiful places in the Florida Panhandle photographed by Colleen Duffley. All proceeds from Pearls and Prints for a Purpose go to the most immediate needs for disaster recovery in Panama City. To order the necklace, call (850) 231-4692. You can also purchase a Colleen Duffley print on glass at ontherunimages.com, where proceeds will be going to The Sonder Project, a non-profit founded through a partnership of three Walton County-based businesses — 360 Blue, YOLO Boar and The 30A Company (thesonderproject.org).

Big Mama’s Hula Girl Gallery had a clearance sale from which all the proceeds were donated to the Sonder Project. The shop also collected approximately $1,700 to purchase diapers and wipes for the Panama City Junior League diaper drive. During the month of November, Big Mama’s is selling hand-stamped bracelets with the slogan 850 Strong on them, to support those in need.

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