03 Sep 2018 CAUSE & EFFECT: A Horse and a Storm of a Different Color
My front yard still hosts a small ditch that was created by a temporary power line that ran across the length of our property providing us access to the much-coveted electricity that eluded us for weeks post Hurricane Irma. The makeshift connection was in place for months and gave us the ability to turn on the lights, refrigeration, the air conditioner and water heater.
I didn’t talk or write much about what I considered to be a small inconvenience at the time because I knew so many were dealing with much greater hardships locally and nationally. I was humbled when I saw updates from those displaced from homes and lacking basic needs. A small divot in our yard is just not a big deal. But the physical remnant has kept the events of a year ago top of mind.
As the 2018 hurricane season came into view I heard many of our Southwest Florida neighbors express symptoms of post storm trauma while others are trying to recover what was lost in the hurricane. There are still families displaced in the region due to the storm and local agencies continue to walk alongside them as they rebuild their lives.
At the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, we spent post storm time evaluating how we could improve our disaster recovery fundraising efforts in the event our region faced something similar in the future.
But in all our debriefs and design sessions we just kept talking about hurricane and flooding relief while all the while another storm was brewing.
This time the disaster did not come in the form of massive winds and flooding but rather in red tide and algae blooms creating a water crisis. Evacuations were not mandatory, but the smell and health risks have locals and tourists avoiding impacted areas.
One of my favorite scenes from the Wizard of Oz is when Dorothy and her crew arrive at the gates of the Emerald City and have more than a little trouble convincing the guard to let them in. When they finally convince him, he says:
Well bust my buttons! Why didn’t you say that in the first place? That’s a horse of a different color! Come on in!
When the Foundation and our partners at the United Way and Lee County Human Services stood up the Hurricane Irma Disaster Relief Fund hours before the storm made landfall almost a year ago, we were focused on providing the opportunity for people to step up and help their fellow man in the wake of destruction. We knew that there was the potential for loss of economic stability, housing, and basic needs not to mention the environmental impact on our region.
As we have watched the water crisis unfold this summer we realized our community was facing the same struggles- it was just a storm of a different color. Nonprofits were reporting record numbers of individuals and families accessing their services, Harry Chapin Food Bank saw the need to launch mobile food pantries in our coastal communities and the Community Foundation of Collier County began providing support to water based businesses that had been impacted.
While advocates and policy makers focus on the technical side of the water crisis the Foundation was alerted to the fact that once again our neighbors were suffering. Many have lost income and the ability to support themselves.
To that end, last Monday, along with our go-to partners at United Way and their network of partner agencies we announced the Southwest Florida Cares Fund to benefit our Lee County neighbors suffering from the water crisis. The fund operates much like the Hurricane Irma fund, providing a platform for folks who want to take action in helping their neighbors in need. Once again, businesses are stepping up to help, like Sunshine Ace Hardware who established collection sites in all their regional locations to assist Lee, Collier and Charlotte counties.
It may be a storm of a different color but the many of the effects are the same, and just as we all look for ways we can make things better post hurricane, we must also look for ways to become activated around preventing other environmental and social crises.
Along with the water relief fund the SWFL Community Foundation is investing more significantly in a fund for the Environment and a group of donors and advocates are standing up a fund to address Climate Change. Additionally, long standing local organizations are increasing their efforts to advocate, educate and prevent destructive impacts on our water, including Sanibel Sea School and their Ocean Tribe, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida and Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation.
The storm has hit and there are so many ways to help with recovery and creating a new way forward.
About the Southwest Florida Community Foundation
The Southwest Florida Community Foundation, founded in 1976, cultivates regional change for the common good through collective leadership, social innovation and philanthropy to address the evolving community needs in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. The Foundation partners with individuals, families and corporations who have created more than 400 philanthropic funds. Thanks to them, the Foundation invested $5.4 million in grants and programs to the community. With assets of over $120 million, it has provided more than $71 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves since inception. The Foundation is the backbone organization for the regional FutureMakers Coalition and Lee County’s Sustainability Plan. Currently, the Southwest Florida Community Foundation’s regional headquarters are located off College Parkway in South Fort Myers, with satellite offices located on Sanibel Island, in LaBelle (Hendry County) and downtown Fort Myers. For more information, call 239-274-5900 or visit www.floridacommunity.com