02 Oct 2017 CAUSE & EFFECT: The New Normal
I am both anticipating and dreading the restoration of my power and water post Hurricane Irma. The utility companies and linemen have worked tirelessly but I just happen to be one of the “special circumstances” you have read about that are going to require a bit more attention.
Clearly the convenience of air conditioning, lights and a hot shower is coveted but going without allows me to avoid mindlessly slipping back into my comfortable lifestyle. It keeps the struggles that others are facing much more daunting than mine, in the wake of Irma, top of my mind.
Going without modern amenities is an inconvenience but pales in comparison to the hardships facing those who lost homes, jobs and most everything they owned to the wrath of the storm.
I am in the position of raising dollars to assist those in need during local disasters. The Southwest Florida Community Foundation launched the Hurricane Irma Relief Fund in partnership with the United Way of Lee, Hendry, Glades and Okeechobee days before the storm hit because we wanted to be ready to roll with a giving portal immediately after impact. Experience has shown us that Southwest Floridians are generous and ready to help their neighbors. And we predicted folks from outside our community would also want to find a way to assist us. Generosity abounds in times of great need and the purpose of the fund is to move dollars to local nonprofits that are assisting those impacted by the storm.
We were right. The donations came from near and far and so did the images of those hardest hit. Manufactured home communities devastated, businesses without roofs, severe flooding, and families standing in line for basic needs like water, food and ice.
Working from behind a computer collecting donations we have to guard against isolating ourselves from the need. It’s not about the money but about the people. A storm doesn’t consider what neighborhood you live in or your social standing. But in terms of recovery the resources at your disposal do determine your ability to get back to normal. How do those of us with resources stay in touch with those who may be struggling? And many of those affected by the storm were struggling before Irma ever came to town.
I understand sleeping in a hot room at night is not suffering, but I used the bit of discomfort as a reminder to think and consider those in much greater need, both pre-and post-Irma. Attainable housing and food insecurity were part of some Southwest Floridians’ lives before hurricane season and a direct hit has just made the situation worse.
At the same time, I rejoiced as those around me began to regain power, found temporary lodging and got back to normal, even if it was a new normal. It provided a sense of stability in an otherwise chaotic time. Downtown Fort Myers was up and running quickly after the storm and seeing folks walking around and having meals and supporting small businesses that had been closed for days was comforting. Or visiting FGCU the day classes resumed and witnessing students back in their routines made me feel like things were moving forward. Even our own offices having internet restored gave me the sense that we could be more impactful for those that weren’t able to get reconnected.
A friend who never lost power told me she felt guilty she had what so many were going without, but I reminded her that her new normal existence allowed many others to find hope, refuge and a hot meal that would have not otherwise been available to them. I see this playing out over and over again as those who have resources are reaching out to those who need them.
I considered not writing about Hurricane Irma for this column as I wondered if people might be ready to read something on a different topic. But then I realized it was just another way to help us not forget those who still and will need our help and at the same time embrace the new normal in our lives that allows us to rebuild and move forward post storm. Working together in this recovery provides a chance to create a positive new normal for everyone in our community, regardless of the weather.
The Foundation’s Hurricane Irma relief fund will be up until October 15, 2017 at www.floridacommunity.com and the United Way has launched their annual campaign that supports nonprofits that will be helping victims all year long. You can learn more at www.unitedwaylee.org.
If you need help as result of the storm, reach out to the United Way by dialing 211 and they can connect you to FEMA assistance and other local resources.
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 over 400 philanthropic funds. Thanks to them, last year the Foundation invested $5 million in grants and programs to the community. With assets of $111 million, the Community Foundation has provided more than $69 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. Based in Fort Myers, the Foundation has satellite offices located in Sanibel Island, LaBelle (Hendry County), and downtown Fort Myers. For more information, visit www.FloridaCommunity.com or call 239-274-5900.