What We’ve Learned: Relief agencies

What We've Learned

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB)- The devastation of Hurricane Michael was unimaginable. To this day, broken homes still sit in neighborhoods, some still in the condition they were the day of the storm, and others undergoing construction while a patient family spends months living in a trailer parked in the driveway. 

Post-Hurricane Michael, Bay County saw both the best and the worst in people but thankfully the best overpowered those with bad intentions. The amount of relief that flooded into the Panhandle seemed to be a shock to most residents considering they were used to being the ones who sent the help, rather than the ones receiving it. 

Help came from all over the nation and even from locals who were impacted themselves.

Trinity Lutheran Church opened a food pantry in the days after Hurricane Michael.

“My family is still going through this, but it was helping us to get through what we were going through because we were helping other people,” said Trinity Lutheran Food Pantry Director, Tammy Wilson.

Wilson, like many others, lost her home in the storm however she couldn’t let that deter her from helping others. She saw a community in need, but not just any community, it was her community that needed the most help.  

“We had to stay open. There was no closing our doors because there’s too much of a need here,” said Wilson. 

Wilson along with other church staff and volunteers opened a food pantry to the community that provided fresh fruits and vegetables, MREs, toiletries and basic essentials. It’s a pantry that still runs to this day because the need is still very present in Bay County.

Pictured: Trinity Lutheran food pantry located at the corner of 11th Street and Balboa Avenue in Panama City.

Other local churches also stepped up to the plate, organizing mass supply giveaways with materials donated by other churches from around the nation. 

“I was contacted by a whole bunch of different organizations from around the entire country asking how they could help and be a part and so we just immediately set up at all of our different campuses and began what we call distribution,” said Pastor at Northstar Church, Marty Martin.

For Martin, this was also his community and he would do anything to help. However, it wasn’t a one-man effort. He said nothing would have been possible after the storm without the helo of his team, volunteers and others around him. 

“I mean, I look around and I see our leaders and I see the people in this community and how far we’ve come in a year and I’m just touched by the generosity of the people in this community,” said Martin. 

While supplies and toiletries were much needed by the community, many residents impacted by the storm noticed they missed one thing imparticular, and it was something simple, a hot meal. 

Supplies were donated and distributed at the Callaway campus of Northstar church.

Mercy Chefs has been around for 13 years. The volunteer-relief agency formed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when the founder’s home town of New Orleans was struck by disaster. 

Founder and President, Gary LeBlanc, saw the desperate need for hot meals following the devastation of a hurricane. The need went beyond New Orleans and the Mercy Chefs team has responded to over 120 disasters in over 27 states and 7 foreign countries in the past 13 years.

The team pre-staged in Pensacola before the storm and rolled into town the next day. “The second day, we called and got our big kitchen and brought it in and so the third day after Michael, we were setting up our big kitchen in Lynn Haven,” said Founder & President of Mercy Chefs, Gary LeBlanc. 

They prepared and distributed over 105,000 meals in the immediate weeks following the storm and are still in Panama City to this day providing relief. 

“The biggest thing I’ve taken away from this are the people here in Bay County. How they have loved each other, how they have linked arms, and how they stand one with another through every day no matter how hard it is,” said LeBlanc.

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