In September, I wrote a blog about disasters and our need for humanity at the center of disaster response. These notes and ideas sparked from conversations with Patty McIlreavy, president and CEO of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP), and are even more present now after the high Category 4 Hurricane Ian struck Southwest Florida.

With winds reaching 150mph, immense flooding, and massive power outages, Ian made a name for itself in the history books. This was my second hurricane, my husband’s third… but it was our first major hurricane in our new place in Florida. While many damage assessments are still taking place, it seems Ian is making the top of the list in all destruction categories. Being in the direct path of Ian, Cape Coral, Venice, Fort Myers, Sanibel, and many other areas were devastated by the storm. DeSoto, our neighboring county, was under feet of water making highways, in or out, impassable.

Ian made landfall for us in Sarasota County on September 28 and persisted until early morning on September 29. At The Patterson Foundation (TPF), there are three phases of disaster recovery: Cope, Adapt, Innovate. As someone who has seen hurricane relief and other disaster recovery, I recognize the way the Suncoast Region responded to Ian is unique.

Cope: “Following a disaster or unexpected challenge, we first focus on ensuring our safety and addressing the immediate needs essential to survival.”
  • TPF has a shared Google sheet with the contact information of all TPFers. Before, during, and after a disaster, each person places their status and location. This sheet was introduced to me around my second week, before Ian or other possible disasters were on TPF’s radar. Preparedness, thoughtfulness, and caring attitudes comprises TPF’s mindset on disasters and recovery. I received text messages throughout the storm from Fellows and a phone call the morning after Ian passed from TPF President and CEO Debra Jacobs to ensure my family and I were safe.

Adapt: “Getting accustomed to the reality of living with the situation, we adopt new systems and methods to create stability.”
  • When it was safe to venture beyond doorsteps, TPFers set out to help. We arrived at houses to gather fallen tree limbs, messes of leaves, and connect with one another after a pretty scary set of circumstances.
Hurricane Ian cleanup
  • Suncoast community members didn’t shy away from the opportunity to assist. Each morning before the sun woke, community members gathered at Anna Maria Oyster Bar to make cold cuts and peanut butter & jelly sandwiches for communities that needed them. On Tuesday morning alone, we made over 850 sandwiches in two hours. 

volunteering with AMOB
  • Even before the route into Desoto County became clear, The Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading was planning a Pop-Up Neighbor Through Laundry event for our neighbors in Arcadia with the addition of gift cards for all who came.

“Using imagination combined with a possibility mindset, we discover fresh ways to live, work, and play.”

  • There were conversations on what was possible based on access, capacity, and safety by foundation leadership that led to the creation of the Suncoast Disaster Recovery Fund. TPF catalyzed the Suncoast Disaster Recovery Fund at Community Foundation of Sarasota County with an initial donation of $500,000 and an additional opportunity for impact through a 1:1 match up to $750,000.
  • An impromptu Hurricane Ian Relief Concert held at the Van Wezel with arelief concert performance by the Sarasota Orchestra created immense support. The auditorium was absolutely packed. I still get goosebumps when I think about the way each community member in attendance took part as the national anthem began. Everyone stood, hand on heart, and sang proudly to send love and courage to those still without power or a place to call home due to Ian’s wrath. It was at that moment I knew the Florida coast would prevail regardless of circumstances because we would do it together.

This is only a handful of instances where I saw the Suncoast Region jump into action with caring hearts, collaborating minds, and contributing hands. In each of these responses, I witnessed humanity at the center. By focusing on those who needed assistance most, utilizing resources from each sector, and engaging in participatory conversations, the region made a genuine effort in disaster response through collaborative systems.

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