PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — Hurricane Michael snapped nearly every tree and power pole when it came ashore in Bay County on October 10th, 0218.
Nearly every home, business, and school suffered some level of damage — from damages to roofs to total destruction.
“It was probably literally the most humbling experience of my life when I crawled out of the emergency operations center with a bunch of other people looked around at my community and started to cry,” said Gulf Coast State College President John Holdnak.
In these moments several leaders came to the same conclusion. They and their employees needed help. The Gulf Coast State College Foundation quickly approved a $1.5 million dollar transfer to the college to use as emergency funding for staff and students.
“We can’t fix everybody’s problems but if we take care of our own other people can work on other issues,” Holdnak said.
Bay County took in about $400,000 to help its employees.
“There’s a level of expectancy for your government to still operate even in a disaster,” said Bay County Commissioner Tommy Hamm. “Sometimes they don’t realize that, you know, our county employees just went through the same horrific experience that everyone else did. They were displaced they lost everything they’ve owned and yet they are still expected to go back to work.”
The City of Lynn Haven raised nearly $300,000, giving $1,000 checks to residents in need. Bay District Schools and the Bay Education Foundation took in nearly $400,000 and spent it on clothes for students, school supplies, and replacing items teachers lost in their classrooms.
Meanwhile, to make sure military students kept their GI Bill benefits, the college was required to reopen in 28 days.
“We had people taking classes in rooms that the walls were made out of plastic,” Holdnak said. And, along with an education the college and the foundation were offering one hot meal each day.
“So I went up to one group of students and said, ‘Hey, thanks for coming back,’ and this guy looks up at me and says, ‘Hey, you don’t understand this is the first hot meal I’ve had in a month.'”
The giving has been a blessing that lasts.
County officials still have some of the donations left. They use them whenever an employee is in need. That includes meals for employees suffering from COVID and travel expenses for an employee facing expensive cancer treatments.
“We’ve been able to find a lot of good uses for it,” Hamm said.