A Mandarin woman was on her way to the Florida Panhandle Wednesday morning, driving a 26-foot box truck filled with food and supplies she collected for Hurricane Michael victims who are still dealing with the aftermath of the historic storm.
Leigh Burdett, publisher of Mandarin Neighbors magazine, said the truck is filled with thousands of dollars worth of food, paper goods, cleaning supplies, bedding and toys, among other things. She expects to arrive in Fountain, Florida, northeast of Panama City, by late afternoon or early evening Wednesday.
“The reason we chose Fountain is they, back in December, had their community center reach out and say, ‘We’ve been forgotten,’” Burdett said. “When they were in the news, everybody came running. Once it was out of the news, nobody came running.”
Burdett said many of the people who live in Fountain work at the hotels in Panama City and Panama City Beach.
“They weren’t the owners of the fancy houses and the hotels in that area,” she explained. “They were living paycheck to paycheck, driving about 30 minutes to go to their jobs and back home. So when this storm hit, it affected not only their income, but also many of them lost their homes. Many of them have been living in tents.”
Burdett used her magazine to let her fellow Mandarin residents know that people in the Panhandle are still struggling and need help. She said the response she got was incredible. Donations poured in from individuals and businesses.
“My hope is that other communities will recognize that they, as one person or a group, can do the same thing, and that sometime this could happen to us,” she said.
On Wednesday morning, as Burdett was transferring all of the supplies she collected from a storage unit at Atlantic Self Storage to a 26-foot Penske truck, she was helped by local firefighters (who did most of the heavy lifting), Atlantic Self Storage employees, volunteers who manned the donation stations around Mandarin. A bipartisan group of Jacksonville City Council candidates, Michael Boylan, Matt Carlucci, Ron Salem and Lisa King, also showed up to help hoist the load. (Editor’s note: Michael Boylan was formerly the CEO of WJCT.)
“I’ve never done anything like this before,” Burdett said before getting in the truck to head west.
“I know when you do a good thing you’re not supposed say bad things, like, ‘Oh I’m tired, it’s been exhausting.’ But I’ve spent probably every weekend, 10-to-12 hours here, sorting, for the past four or five weeks, and it’s been totally worth it.”