After Hurricane Irma roared ashore at Marco Island, many have needed help, and many have wanted to help.
Since the area last faced a major natural disaster in 2005’s Hurricane Wilma, the ways that people coordinate and deliver help have changed considerably, with internet technologies and social media in the forefront.
Along with the traditional relief agencies such as the Red Cross and FEMA, grassroots organizations have sprung up as local people take it on themselves to help their neighbors without the middleman.
One such ad hoc relief group is the Marco Patriots, which has mobilized hundreds of residents and raised tens of thousands of dollars, taking advantage of today’s digital toolbox. The group came together when local Jet-Ski tour operator Ron Hagerman and Matthew Melican went to Texas with some of his Jet-Skis to help with relief efforts after Hurricane Harvey.
Matthew’s brother Mark ran dispatch for the onsite team, using the mobile phone app Zello, which approximates a walkie-talkie on a cell phone. No sooner had the duo returned from Texas than their own home was struck by another massive hurricane, and they transferred their efforts to help here.
To raise funds for local relief, the Marco Patriots Facebook page disseminated information on what storm assistance was needed. The group joined with Stephen and Debbie Barker who produce the Marco Review to create a GoFundMe campaign, raising that most important of relief supplies, money. As of Sunday evening, the GoFundMe account stood at $67,675 raised.
“Nobody’s taking anything out of the funds raised. GoFundMe takes five percent, but they’ve donated $100,000 themselves to help storm victims.” Stephen Barker said via telephone. “We’ve seen grandkids doing lemonade stands and carwashes and donating the money, and older folks too.
“These days, social media is a key component to helping recovery efforts. We lived through Wilma, but it wasn’t a possibility to use social media then. We have a lot of people who love Marco Island but aren’t here right now.”
They used their own list, plus that of the Marco Island Chamber of Commerce to reach out for donations.
Many who are here were tired of taking it on the chin from the storm’s effects. After being pummeled by Hurricane Irma, and dealing with its aftermath for over a week, families and individuals were clearly ready to go on offense and fight back against the storm’s devastation. Even while many were still without power and under boil water advisories, they wanted to do what they could and help others who were more in need.
The Marco Patriots group began serving as a clearinghouse for in-kind contributions. Now Matthew Melican’s house at 1994 Sheffield Avenue in southern Marco is a regular stop for deliveries from every parcel company and many private individuals. Melican’s sister Erin Milchman has been coordinating the deliveries and disbursements, with assistance from a core group of volunteers.
“So many people have volunteered. They dropped everything, set aside their jobs and their lives to help out,” said Milchman. “Packages are streaming in. We had 100 boxes the first day, 150 the second day, 250 the third day, and it keeps growing.”
A partial list of the relief supplies they had received, and distributed, included 400 cases of diapers, 1,100 cases of baby food, 2,000 toothbrushes, 738 packages of baby wipes, 632 pairs of rubber work gloves, and approximately 500 cases of bottled water, said Milchman. The need continues unabated, she said, with many people destitute and dependent of help from efforts such as theirs.
“It’s not over. It’s not close to over. People haven’t worked for two weeks, and they’ve spent the money they had. We need non-perishable, particularly things like rice and pinto beans. Diapers, and all kinds of baby needs, school supplies.”
Many people, she said, have brought to Marco Patriots the hurricane supplies they had cached for themselves, now that the storm has passed. The group has distributed the largesse to Everglades City, Chokoloskee, Copeland, Goodland and within the City of Marco Island – “not everyone who lives here is rich,” said Milchman.
Another dropoff point for relief supplies, on Goodland, is the Goodland Civic Association headquarters at 417 Mango Ave. On Friday afternoon, a steady trickle of people drove up to the old firehouse on Goodland and dropped off supplies where civic association member Noreen Seeger presided over tables and stacks of canned goods, bottles of water and paper products. Jo Bramley stopped by and dropped off a carload of tarps, and Anthony and Mary Medlock delivered cases of bottled water and canned goods.
“We heard there was a need,” Anthony Medlock said simply.
Milchman said the Marco Patriots are getting ready to start a new phase of their effort, focusing on construction work and rebuilding.
“We need people with strong arms, willing to swing a hammer,” she said. For more information or to volunteer, go to marcoislandpatriots.com. To donate to the GoFundMe campaign, go to GoFundMe.com and search for Marco Island Hurricane Irma fund.
Another avenue for fundraising and celebrating “all the wonderful people who did Marco Island proud before, during and after the storm” is a MarcoStrong benefit concert, on Oct. 1 at the Esplanade, featuring area musicians including JRobert, Raiford Starke, Frank Carroll, Ryan Darling, Jeff Hilt, Capt’n Jac, Ben Olson, Duncan Wheeler and Joerey Ortiz.