When Civility Reigns, Even in a Storm

Guest Correspondence

Hurricane Irma spared us the destruction whose landfall seemed frighteningly likely before it crossed the Florida Keys into Collier County. Yet damage did occur here, and clean-up and recovery continue across our communities. Nearly a week since this unprecedented storm swept past our region, there remains much to do, to assess and even to appreciate.

If anything has come into sharp focus for me in the past few days, it is how we pulled together as a community, with neighbors helping neighbors before and during the storm. There were many acts of generosity, as neighborhoods formed storm-shutter brigades, restaurants fed first responders, and shoppers stepped aside to let another in greater need grab that last generator or case of water. Thank you for these acts of compassion.

In spite of such unselfish kindness, many residents right here did suffer and will be slow to recover. The worst is yet to come for thousands of families who were in financial distress before the storm hit. The farther you go into our neighborhoods, the more downed trees and damaged homes you find. And in our region’s service-reliant economy, families that already teetered on the financial edge will be buffeted by economic wind-bands from this storm long after it has fallen off the weather radar.

In Sarasota County alone, 18,000 households are just a $400 emergency away from losing their homes, according to data in the United Way’s recent ALICE Report. Now think about the $1,000 it may cost to remove a tree that fell. Or the wages lost this week by restaurant servers and convenience store clerks who barely scrape by. Theirs are hurricane stories we must remember and share.

But this is a region that cares for its own. In just a few weeks, we will begin a year-long celebration of the civility and community spirit that we are witnessing right now. Thank you for staying positive, keeping your cool and making a difference during the darkness of this storm. Because it matters.

So, what can you do in the weeks ahead to accelerate our recovery while continuing to build our trust in one another?

Keep checking on our neighbors. The bonds we strengthen now will serve us in the future.

Volunteer. Agencies like All Faiths Food Bank and Harvest House have been on the ground providing relief from the minute it was safe to do so. More volunteer needs will arise through the recovery phase of Hurricane Irma.

Support local businesses. The more money we pump back into our local economy, the more families we can help keep afloat.

Donate. Please donate directly to service providers like the Food Bank, Salvation Army, and Jewish Family and Children’s Service, or contribute to trusted funds like our Gulf Coast Disaster Fund or the Community Foundation of Sarasota County’s Hurricane Irma Relief and Recovery Fund. We will ensure that 100% of these gifts directly support the charities that are providing much-needed services.

Mark Pritchett is president and CEO of Gulf Coast Community Foundation.

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