Two months after Hurricane Michael slammed into North Florida levelling communities from the coast to South Georgia, areas continue struggling to get back up and running. The Rebuild850 campaign is trying to keep that recovery in the forefront to make sure the area often known as the Forgotten Coast, isn’t this time.
The moving company AMWAT has one of its trucks parked outside the Tallahassee Democrat’s South Magnolia office, a pile of toys steadily growing as cars drive up to drop off more.
“Clearly we don’t have enough toys to give to every single child but Volunteer Florida does a good job of identifying kids in need," explains company co-owner Gloria Pugh as she motions toward the pile.
These toys will eventually head West, and be distributed to families impacted by Hurricane Michael. The Toy Drive is part of ongoing efforts by Rebuild850—the organization created in the wake of the storm to keep attention on the needs of the Panhandle after Hurricane Michael. The storm hit the state two months ago.
“You still see the devastation everywhere you go, and there’s a lot of work that still needs to be done," says former North Florida Congresswoman Gwen Graham, who co-founded the organization and was recently in Panama City.
"That’s why I am so honored to be a part of Rebuild 850, to keep attention on North Florida and have people know there is still a lot that needs to occur to help people rebuild their lives.”
Meanwhile, most school districts hit hard by the storm were able to re-open just last month, and North Florida Senator Bill Montford says students and staff continue to struggle.
“There’s a tremendous impact on these young people. That’s why the whole mental health issue for these children can’t go unnoticed. We’ve have to recognize there will be severe emotional issues with these children, and their teachers.”
The level of destruction from the Category 4 storm is comparable to that of Hurricane Andrew, Graham says. Estimates put claims at around $4.5 billion and growing.
“You’ll see on people’s doors signs that say, 'not open but we will rebuild.' There is that spirit of the North Florida way where people will come together," she says.
"If you get in your car and drive west you’ll see how people are really suffering and we need to be sure to keep our neighbors in the Panhandle in our minds and hearts and help them with the resources they need.…go to Panama City and go to the beach. Make sure we’re investing in this part of Florida that desperately needs our help.”