Earlier this month Tropical Storm Erika looked like it would possibly impact southwest Florida. After any disaster in our five-county service area, the Harry Chapin Food Bank’s primary role is to work cooperatively with other disaster relief organizations to help distribute food and other essential grocery items. In Florida, we often think of hurricanes, but the Harry Chapin Food Bank (HCFB) is also ready to respond to fires, tornados, flooding and other disasters to ensure that victims can efficiently receive basic supplies (water, sports drinks, MRE’s, diapers, insect repellant, etc.) to help them for the next several days or weeks.
Fortunately, we haven’t had a major disaster in our service area since Hurricane Charley in 2004 (pictured above). At that time, we had five different warehouses set up in strategic areas to ensure supplies were able to be distributed efficiently. We also worked with dozens of church groups to set up short-term, temporary food pantries to provide supplies. Although many pantries were able to end distribution after a few weeks, there were some in Charlotte County that continued to operate for two years.
How can you help the community during or after a disaster? The most important thing you can do is be prepared! Right now, you want to be able to ensure that your family, children and pets all have the basic needs so you can be self-sufficient for at least three days. Various media including WINK News, NBC2 News and The News-Press have hurricane guides that include lists of supplies to have on hand. Here at the Food Bank, we are also prepared this time of year for an emergency. We have a storage space loaded with bottled water and enough food on hand to begin distribution immediately after a storm or other disaster. We continually work with our 150 partner agencies to ensure that we have current contact information so that we can check in and provide them with additional support if needed.
Be aware of potential dangers in your neighborhood. Portions of coastal counties can be under mandatory evacuation orders. The Florida Division of Emergency Management’s website will let you look up your Evacuation Zone and shows designated Evacuation Routes. This will also give you a good idea if your home is in an area likely to be impacted by storm surge. If you live in an outlying area that could be at risk of wildfire, the Florida Forest Service has a Firewise Community program with suggestions on how to lower your risk wildfire around your home.
After the disaster, once your family is stable, there may be additional volunteer needs at the Food Bank to assist with packing and distributing food, as well as office assistants. We will be working with the media to broadcast our needs, but you can also keep an eye on our website and Facebook page for our current needs.
Hopefully this blog contains information you will never need, but it is definitely important to have a plan in place now so you are ready just in case!
For more on our disaster preparedness, please contact:
Joyce Jacobs, HCFB Associate Director
(239) 334-7007 ext. 130