The days leading up to Hurricane Irma were filled with news reports from the media tracking the path of the storm and reminding us that it was coming fast and it was going to be big. You couldn’t turn on the TV without hearing about this mega storm. There was even talk that we might need more than a Category 5 to describe it. According to the news reports, this one was huge. It had been chewing up the Caribbean islands in it’s path and had its sights set on the Florida Keys. Collectively, our nation, still reeling from the devastation in Houston, was now being told that the Florida Keys might be lost.
Then it hit, and then…… silence.
The weather forecasters had now shifted their attention north. Both the east and west coasts of Florida were next. But wait….. what happened to the Keys? The residents were without power, the only road in was closed and no one knew what had happened. It was silent – and so was the coverage.
No one was allowed in for a week.
…and then it started.
Scared people started messaging us on Facebook.
“Have you seen my parents?”
“My neighbors stayed in their house and now we can’t reach them, can someone go check?”
As it turned out, FishMonster had a hero of its own. Captain Marlin managed to find his way back into the Keys right after the storm by way of a search and rescue team and was ready and willing to go visit people’s homes to see if they were ok and gave peace of mind to many. He uploaded video after video of the area just as soon as there was a connection. When you live in the islands, you learn to take care of each other. Sometimes that’s all we have – and he did that…plus.
…. and then this started.
“How can we help?”
“Who do you know that we can reach out to and help directly?”
“What do you need: trailers, food, money to replace your things, a helping hand to clear the debris…..”
An incredible amount of people started writing in to FishMonster and Island Jane Magazine with offers to help. So we gave them the name of a friend, and then another, and another. Eventually, the word of mouth referrals got to be too much and we had to come up with a system where we could find and verify those in the area who needed the help and connect them to donors with the appropriate resources – and that is how the “Adopt a Local” program began.
That’s when we got a message from an angel. Caitlyn Bolozky of St. Louis, Missouri volunteered her time to help us match up donors to local Keys residents who needed help. She spent hours sorting through the responses.
“One of the neatest things to see with the Adopt a Local program was the act of strangers helping strangers.” said Caitlyn. “I think that many of these match-ups will have made life long relationships. It was also so neat to see communities come together and have fundraisers to help locals. With all the bad things going on in the world, it feels really special to be a part of something that shows humanity isn’t all that bad!
“One of my favorite stories, that really sticks with me, is a family that was adopted and received some gifts and gift cards and then sent their donors handmade gifts to thank them.”
To date, the “Adopt a Local” program has connected over 206 donors with people/ families in the Keys.
Now, in addition to hearing Irma destruction stories, we’re hearing stories of kindness and connection. Fun stories too, like the lady named Jane who adopted Rebecca who lived on her sailboat. Rebecca’s sailboat made it through the storm just fine, but ended up sinking a few days later because they couldn’t get back to her to make sure the bilge pumps were working. These two very similar women have found a friendship that will most likely last a lifetime.
Another group of friends got together and adopted one family and have been showering them with all kinds of monetary support as well as encouragement. It just goes to show the power in numbers!
Speaking of numbers, one club had a fundraiser and was able to give a good sized donation to a single mother in Marathon who lost her roof and helped several other families in the lower Keys with their donations of grocery store gift cards.
One couple had a camper in their yard that they stocked full of supplies, graciously brought down to Big Pine Key and delivered to a couple who had lost their home. I tagged along for that one. We drove down their tree lined driveway up to a house that looked pretty good. At first I wondered why they needed a camper – and then I walked around to the back side of the house. It had been completely blown away. That for me was a very sobering moment. Their possessions littered their property – already wet and mildewed from the weather.
The stories are overwhelming, both in number and in content. We’re in the process now of writing thank you letters to each and every person who gave so generously through our program. I think I’ll write down all the stories and post them online where they can all be preserved and you can read them.
I for one am so grateful for the outpouring of love and compassion shown to so many of my friends and neighbors not only here in the Keys, but to other areas of our country that lost a lot too – and not only through our small program because there were so many more who did so much more. No doubt, 2017 was a year filled with conflict and turmoil for our country, but we have also seen the power of humanity at work and this fills my heart with love and gives me hope for the future.