Guest Commentary: Working better together for families after Ian
The volume of what we’ve all accomplished together in the last month since Hurricane Ian strikes me with awe. In just three weeks, Better Together staff, volunteers and supporters knocked on 10,000 doors, delivered supplies to 6,500 families, covered more than 440 roofs and served more than 5,500 warm meals. But more than the numbers, it’s the individual stories that warm my heart.
After losing theirs to the storm, Kat and Nellie got shoes. Rosa got her front door. Little Anderson got to the dentist. Mary now has her insulin and a fridge full of groceries. Patricia’s roof is covered.
Better Together’s mission is to strengthen families and prevent the need for foster care. We help families work through crisis every day. Homelessness, addiction, a medical emergency. Without a support system, a crisis can break a family apart. Hurricane Ian put thousands of families in crisis; some were on the edge of crisis even before the storm hit. Our outreach has allowed us to connect with families in need of that support system.
When parents needed time to get back on their feet, host families stepped up to provide temporary housing for their children. Knowing that their kids had the care they needed, parents and guardians could focus on fixing their homes and securing their financial situations to maintain a safe environment for their children.
Volunteers and supporters joined us from near and far. The Church of Hope in Ocala, a new Better Together partner, drove $20,000 worth of supplies to Southwest Florida. More than 300 volunteers and four food trucks showed up in one day to help the Suncoast Estates community. Volunteers continue to help us take supplies to families in key areas of need, particularly to those in underserved communities. A group from North Carolina also brought supplies. Barbecue Masters for Disasters set up shop in the parking lot of Suncoast First Baptist Church mid-month and continued serving free breakfast and dinner into November.
Livelihoods across Southwest Florida were impacted by Hurricane Ian, and finding new jobs can be especially challenging for people facing barriers to employment, like lack of transportation or child care. Our Hurricane Relief Job Fair helped about 100 Southwest Florida job seekers connect to dozens of employers and resources.
Florida Department of Children and Families Secretary Shevaun Harris walked with us on several occasions to knock on doors and find out what families really need. In mid-October, 25 churches and the state joined us to talk about how we can help each other.
It has been humbling that people noticed our work. Florida First Lady Casey DeSantis named Better Together one of the first five organizations to receive funding from the Florida Disaster Fund, awarding each nonprofit $400,000 to help in recovery. Norman Love Confections chose Better Together as the beneficiary of its special chocolate collection, its #SWFLStrong Florida Box, with 50% of every purchase through early November supporting our mission.
Such generosity will help our impact go further and be more meaningful. It will help families like that of Nymisis, who lost everything in the storm and is living in a tent with her three children while continuing to work and find a permanent home.
To our volunteers, our church partners, community partners and supporters, we have so much gratitude. When families feel overwhelmed and without hope, you show up. You say yes.
And we’re just getting started.
Hurricane recovery needs are shifting from simple deliveries of food and water to the hard work of helping families get back on their feet. We must love our neighbors, not just in the crushing days after a storm, but in the weeks and months ahead as families need support to recover. Together, we can do this.
Join us as we work to create solutions for families and children who need our support now more than ever.
Megan Rose is CEO of Better Together, a nonprofit organization that helps parents and families. To help families in your community, get help or donate to the relief fund, visit bettertogetherus.org or call 239-470-2733.