Field report: Day 12 without power

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As I sit down to write this email, it’s hard to know where to start. I’m tired and not even sure what day it is—the days are blending into each other. The aftermath of Hurricane Ian is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. In a matter of hours, life as Floridians knew it, our roads, bridges, cars, homes, boats, offices, they just… washed away.

Lives have been lost; thousands are still without power. This was a massive storm, and government has done a great job focusing its efforts on search-and-rescue, rebuilding bridges, and responding to immediate emergencies.

Even so, there are many vulnerable families who feel left behind. Our volunteers are working relentlessly to make sure that doesn’t happen. We are filling in the gap.

This week, we helped more than 1,000 people across Southwest Florida, including more than 200 families in North Fort Myers’ Suncoast Estates, one of the largest mobile home communities in the country. The storm left most homes destroyed or uninhabitable. These families work hard, and they barely made ends meet before the storm. The costs of starting over, alone without friends or family to help, are unthinkable.

But they won’t be alone any longer. Our volunteers are walking with these families every step of the way. Families like Jacqueline’s, who is living in a brutally storm-damaged mobile home with her daughter and three grandchildren, Kat, 5, Nellie, 4, and Chloe, 8 months. There are holes in the walls of the trailer with mold growing up them, no power, no AC, no cellphone service.

Jacqueline lives in a brutally storm-damaged mobile home with her daughter and three grandchildren, Kat, 5, Nellie, 4, and Chloe, 8 months.

On our first visit to their home, all three children looked like they had chickenpox, but the spots were from mosquitoes feasting on them at night. We brought apples and the children ate them up like candy. Many families haven’t eaten in days because they don’t have the means to travel to a disaster relief distribution center. They are stranded, forgotten.

Many told us Better Together was the first to drive down their streets offering help. “We’re here for you. What do you need?”

Even if Jacqueline’s family could somehow get to a relief distribution center, it wouldn’t have most of the things she needs right now. It doesn’t offer bug spray, or child care, or help with tarping up their home before the next rain.

That is what Better Together is offering families—solutions to their problems. We made it our mission to go door-to-door, contacting every household possible to learn what each individual family needs. We promised to come back, and we did.

We returned with mosquito netting, ointments, bug spray, cough syrup, thermometers, pull-ups, stuffed animals and dolls, sheets, toddler beds, first-aid kits, shoes, car seats, Pack ’n Plays, bicycles, food, water, clothing, and more.

Their gratitude brought us to tears. “You came back,” Jacqueline said. She couldn’t believe it.

Better Together staff and volunteers bring food, water and supplies to Jacqueline’s family and others in Suncoast Estates on Thursday, October 6.
Jacqueline’s grandchildren hug Better Together CEO Megan Rose as staff and volunteers bring food, water and supplies to Suncoast Estates on Thursday, October 6.

The Crocs fit perfectly. Elsa and Anna were hugged tightly. Mosquito bites were soothed with ointment and band-aids. Food, water and clothes were shared. Help for home repairs is on the way… As Rose left to help other families, Katherine and Nellie hugged her tightly. In hopeful voices they said, “thank you.”
– Kinfay Moroti

This is the power of connecting helpers to the hurting at the local and relational level. While a drive-by distribution center is helpful for some, I think we are really missing an opportunity to be more relational with our neighbors. The families we are meeting don’t only need supplies. They need hugs, and someone to listen and pray for them. They need someone to show up to their door and say, “We see you and we are here to help as best as we can.”

And we are not dropping off supplies and calling it a day. Our volunteers are staying in touch, earning the trust of families in areas of high need who were already hurting. We will continue to be there for them long after the hurricane recovery is over.

There are so many people doing God’s work right now. We have been helping to coordinate efforts between all the different players on the ground, from churches to state government, and their generosity and determination has made my heart sing. We are grateful for all our church partners, from North Carolina to Ocala, who have been collecting donated items and driving them down to us.

I’m also thankful for the Department of Children and Families Secretary, Shevaun Harris, who I called directly about the critical condition of Suncoast Estates. Within 24 hours, she showed up herself to the neighborhood with 10 pallets of formula, baby food, sippy cups, and diapers, and she walked the streets with us to meet and help families.

Florida Department of Children and Families Secretary Shevaun Harris visits Suncoast Estates with Better Together staff and volunteers Thursday, October 6.

This is what Better Together was made to do, and this is where we will be in the days and weeks to come—making sure no child, no family, no community is forgotten.

We are focusing on Suncoast Estates, Harlem Heights, Pine Island, and a few other neighborhoods that are not getting the help they desperately need. We are providing first responders with child care, “adopting” families with children who need help but won’t be asking for it, like the single mom who is working overtime as a nurse, has small children, a damaged home, and is barely keeping it together.

We’re also supporting our elderly neighbors who are lonely, scared, and overwhelmed—they need us as well. We are working to secure funds and help repair small churches, like Suncoast First Baptist Church, which has storm damage but no money to pay its bills. Amid their own struggles, this congregation has been generous in letting our team use their facility, and their hospitality has brought our programs to life in that community.

While we’re doubling down here in Southwest Florida, we are still serving families in Tampa and Jacksonville, and all our existing areas of operation. Our jobs ministry continues to grow, and we have job fairs coming up across the country, including a training of seven churches in Kansas City.

For all those who have donated time and treasure, from the bottom of our hearts, thank you. You make all of this possible. We couldn’t do this without your generous donations. We have set up a disaster relief fund to help as many people as we can, and 100% goes to meeting the needs of families in Southwest Florida.

If you want to help Suncoast Estates:
We’re looking for over 250 volunteers to help this community on Tuesday, Oct. 11. A donor from Tampa is bringing $20,000 in supplies. Other donations are pouring in from near and far. We need help knocking on doors and getting these supplies to residents.

Volunteers will work in two shifts, one from 9 a.m. to noon, another from 1 to 4 p.m. We will provide lunch. Meet us in the parking lot of Suncoast First Baptist Church, 2033 Laurel Lane, North Fort Myers, FL 33917. Bring your team, bring your kids, all are welcome.

If you want to attend or volunteer at a job fair:
Thousands of people lost jobs overnight after the hurricane. On Thursday, Oct. 13, there will be a Hurricane Relief Job Fair at Christ Community Church from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. If you are in need of work during this time, we would love for you to join us. To RSVP, text “JOBS” to 844-987-3949 or visit bettertogetherus.org/events/ian-jobfair. The event address is: 4050 Colonial Blvd., Fort Myers, FL 33966.

In all this heartbreak and devastation, we see the incredible compassion and love of so many people across Southwest Florida. In our darkest moments, we can find God’s light in all of us. We will get through this together.

In hope and gratitude,

Megan Rose

 

Posted Monday, October 10, 2022

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