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Sarasota Thursday, May 28, 2020 2 months ago

Sarasota nonprofit sails supplies, hope to those in need

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The nonprofit Hope Fleet has sailed supplies to The Bahamas since Hurricane Dorian hit.
by: Brynn Mechem Staff Writer

At age 18, when most people are preparing for college or the working world, Danny Moroney moved from Michigan to Sarasota and bought a sailboat, without ever having stepped foot on one.

But for Moroney, the purchase wasn’t daunting. It was the realization of a dream he’d begun visualizing when was 14.

As a teenager, he visited family in Jamaica and saw poverty and suffering. So he began contacting island children’s homes and orphanages to see what they needed.

“Always, the thing that kept coming back, was supplies,” said Moroney, 28. “And it was things I never thought about: textbooks, diapers, lotion. So at age 15 I said, ‘Hypothetically, if you had a fleet of sailboats based in South Florida, would it be viable, possible, beneficial to bring supplies right to you?’”

Bahamians and volunteers hug as Hope Fleet give out supplies. Photo courtesy

So after years of thinking about the possibility, Moroney began working out his idea. With a little help from some new acquaintances, Moroney lived aboard his boat and learned to sail.

Meanwhile, he also worked at the Sarasota Youth Shelter.

“I love angry kids. I love kids and teens that are going through issues and problems, and kids have always been on my heart,” Moroney said. “I think the best investment anyone can ever make is in the life of a child because if you really want to change an area, that’s what the focus is.”

After four years of living on his boat, Moroney began the process of starting the nonprofit organization Hope Fleet, with the idea of sailing essential supplies and services to children who need it most.

The group received its 501(c)3 status in March 2019 and began working on its first project: delivering medical supplies to Cuba. But there was one hurdle to jump: They needed a boat that could sail that far.

Eventually, the group gathered the money to purchase a 40-foot, ocean-ready sailboat from a woman in Fort Lauderdale. However, by the time Hope Fleet was ready to sail, the U.S. government had placed restrictions for boaters heading to Cuba.

Around the same time, Hurricane Dorian hit the Bahamas, leaving 60% of Grand Bahama Island submerged and causing $3.4 billion in damages.

“We all looked at each other and said, ‘We’ve got to do something,’” Moroney said.  

At first, the team loaded the sailboat with basic items, such as food, water and medical supplies, and sailed to the Bahamas.

“It was dire,” Moroney said. “People were needing food, water. There was no power, and people were starving. So when we got there and saw the devastation, we knew we had more work to do.”

Moroney and the team also helped facilitate other supply boats. In one instance, a man offered his 156-foot yacht to take about 100 mattresses to people who were sleeping on the ground.

Several Hope Fleet volunteers unload mattresses to give to locals. Photo courtesy

In all, the team has made about 10 journeys since October 2019. In those trips, the organization has been able to provide food, shelter and Christmas toys.

One person who has seen the benefits of these journeys is Freeport resident Lorenzo Mckenzie, who is now the Hope Fleet Bahamas director. Although his home was hit by the hurricane, Mckenzie has helped coordinate the supplies for others.

“Seeing people and getting the testimonies from people about how we’ve made a difference in their lives, it’s just incredible,” Mckenzie said. “There’s still work to be done with coronavirus, and we’re heading back into hurricane season, and many people still don’t have jobs, but to know that we’re helping as many as we can, it’s beautiful.”

Although work is still being done on houses in the Bahamas, Hope Fleet has had to stop its sailing trips for the time being because of COVID-19. 

In the coming months, leaders hope to partner with humanitarian organizations in the Caribbean.

“We know the saying: ‘Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime,’” Moroney said. “But sometimes, you also need to give a man a pole.”

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