East County volunteers with American Red Cross ban together after tornado hit Siesta Key; Lakewood Ranch High students craft bucket lists
+ Helping hands
Although the East County Observer's circulation area suffered minimal damage from the heavy storm that passed through on Jan. 17, local residents rushed to be part of the relief effort.
East County resident Bené Hunter, a disaster program specialist, began organizing volunteers moments after a tornado blasted through Siesta Key just before 3 a.m.
Hunter, who works out of the office on Malachite Drive, assembled American Red Cross of Southwest Florida volunteers from Manatee, Sarasota, Hardee, DeSoto and Charlotte counties.
Tom Roberts, Ray Allen and Debra Sharp, of East County, were among the 30 volunteers who moved to action quickly to help victims of the storm.
"We checked with hospitals to see if they needed assistance," Hunter said. "We also sent out a team of three volunteers to Duette to assess needs and help with lodging."
Bradenton's Megarie van Sickel, executive director of the American Red Cross of Southwest Florida, said volunteers couldn't help assess damages or provide other services until the storm passed.
By 8 a.m., volunteers from East County and surrounding areas visited homes and other properties along Siesta Key to help those affected.
"We’ve taken drinks and snacks out to residents and first responders," van Sickel said. "We're helping distribute cleanup kits and we were prepared to open shelters, but it didn't come to that. We've just been trying to help people as best we can."
Moving forward, Hunter said Manatee County residents can use the storm as a warning.
"Stay aware of weather warnings and watches," Hunter said. "If they say it’s a tornado watch, be alert. As soon as it becomes a warning, make sure you’re prepared and you know what your plan is. Have a place in your house where you can hide, or if you're going somewhere, have a plan for that. I just hope people realize these storms can and do happen."
+ A couple of drops...
They don't even own a bucket yet.
Even so, Lakewood Ranch High School students are considering items to include on their "bucket list."
"A bucket list is a number of experiences or achievements that a person hopes to have or accomplish during their lifetime," Lakewood Ranch High student Sydney Wicks said in an article she wrote for Mustangs Ahead, the Lakewood Ranch High student newspaper.
Wicks and other members of the school newspaper compiled submitted answers and published the results on the school's website.
Responses ranged from more immediate goals, such as joining the school's track team and signing to a college softball team, to longer term objectives, such as writing a book, visiting California or skydiving.