- June 10, 2015
The effects and damage of Hurricane Ian have been felt across southwest Florida. While the immediate effects were obvious — power shortages, wind damage— the need for longer-term help across the region from flooding and lack of services will persist for months or more.
Local nonprofits and relief organizations are at work filling those needs. The last few weeks has seen a surge in activity from fundraising groups providing food, water, basic necessities and other goods to help those still affected by the storm.
Denise Cotler, Chief Development Officer with All Faiths Food Banks, has been closely involved with the group’s work during the storm.
All Faiths Food Bank has worked in partnership with other food agencies before and after the storm delivering food and water to local shelters.
“We support each other when disasters hit up and down the coastline,” Cotler said. “Unfortunately this time it was us that was impacted.”
The damage is still widespread, and Cotler has worked close with staff to provide food and water to people in need.
“Driving up 41 (in North Port), there's not a strip mall that doesn't have a roof off or a sign off,” Cotler said. “We have staff whose houses got flooded who we had to evacuate. There's a strain on all sides for this one, this is going to be a long recovery.”
The organization also hosted a food distribution event at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall on Oct. 5 and have since hosted other distributions in Englewood.
“The neighbors that need help are used to coming to the Van Wezel,” Cotler said. “And even though Sarasota wasn’t directly hit, everyone lost power. People needed their food replenished. We felt it was a good place to start.”
Cotler says the organization has given out more than 157,000 pounds of fresh produce, 200,000 bulk meals and more than 250,000 bottles of water.
That requires a lot of money, and All Faiths has helped bolster its supply with a financial match of up to $100,000 from the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation and local philanthropists Keith Monda, Veronica Brady, Kathy and Travis Brown, and Bob and Lin Williams.
The Junior League of Sarasota, which aims to help the community through charity and education programs, has been hard at work raising funds and collecting supplies for people with its hurricane relief fund.
Lindsay Nock and other Junior League members recently visited North Port and donated boxes of water, food, batteries, personal hygiene items, baby wipes and more to a local food pantry.
JFCS of the Suncoast recently held its own food truck distribution fundraiser at its Fruitville campus where community partners picked up hot meals from local vendors to distribute to people in need on Oct. 13.
Donations to the fundraiser covered the cost of the meals and leftover funds went to purchasing Winn-Dixie gift cards for people to buy groceries.
While not a disaster relief organization in and of itself, Goodwill Manasota often partners with the Red Cross and local emergency operation centers to provide support for people after natural disasters.
That was the case after Hurricane Ian, and Goodwill Manasota president and CEO Donn Githens said they were fortunate to have a framework already in place to connect with groups when the storm arrived.
“We provide clothing and housewares, we work partners that provide food,” Githens said. “In the community we’re seeing (need for) food, water, daycare and connecting people with those immediate needs.”
The organization operates community resource centers — which offer information and resources to people in need — that are now open in Sarasota, Bradenton and Venice seven days a week.
“The need is great out there,” Githens said. “I think we're still wrapping our arms around what the long term challenges are going to be … we're trying to be supportive, and then listening to what our team members in the community are telling us in the way of what resources they need.”