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From A Distance…


A couple of weeks ago my husband, Jeff, and I decided to go to Florida to get the reconstruction going on Jan, my mother-in-law’s, condo. Hurricane Michael had decided to do a little remodeling. Her condo is on Panama City Beach, and even though the roof was removed, furniture destroyed and walls were torn down, she’s still one of the lucky ones. Lucky, in that she and my sister-in-law, Julie, were emergency evacuated before the storm hit and were safe. And lucky, in that insurance will be absorbing most, if not all, of her debt.

When the hurricane happened we heard some people had stayed. At home, we watched the coverage and you could see roofs, float away like tissue paper, and entire homes collapse in on themselves. You knew it was bad and like every natural disaster you worry about the people, and the new normal they have to face. Invariably, something else comes up and it’s not that you don’t care about those people anymore, you just get wrapped up in the next thing, and then the next thing, and then the next thing.

It’s what I did. Originally, we were going to Florida, for our anniversary and to spend some time with Jan, before the storm came. This place is beautiful, sunny, and humid, with white quartz beaches, and clear aquamarine water. You go to sleep with the slider door open and listen to the waves break against the beach. And the rest of America has nothing on southern hospitality.

Upon landing, we understood that things were going to be different. Not that you can’t still do those things. It’s still beautiful and Panama City Beach is, for the most part, up and running. There are only certain areas of the city that are non-working or closed for construction. However, we immediately started seeing three-story debris piles, that weren’t just scattered here and there. It looked like it does in the mountains when the snowplow comes through and pushes the snow to the side of the road. As we approached the city, we noticed caved-in roofs, and construction pickup trucks dot every parking lot, condo facility, home, and business.

Home Depot and other home improvement stores were wiped clean of building supplies. Gas pumps had maybe one or two pumps open and it was clear, this once extremely fun and festive city was hurting. Not that you saw people feeling sorry for themselves, far from it. You’d see drives being held for others and people who were in as bad of shape as everyone else, were donating to it. The humidity was keeping things warm but also keeping things wet, and when you can’t dry things out, black mold begins to grow. Jeff and I thought it was bad, really bad, and then we drove to Panama City Central and Mexico Beach.

The carnage that ripped through these areas was night and day to Panama City Beach. Here, entire areas were flattened, and half hulled boats were in the driving medians. The trees, looking as if hit in a nuclear blast, were all broken in the same direction. Most homes were caved in and every house had a blue tarp on its roof. Huge hundred-year-old trees perched completely uprooted atop rooftops. That wasn’t the exception, it was the rule. Huge concrete buildings were caved in and we found out the amount of damage was completely dependent upon whether you could keep your doors and windows intact. If you could, your structure might stand, if you couldn’t the strongest foundation would crumble. Most businesses were closed, but eventually, we did find a restaurant, then sat and talked with locals who told us the real 411 of life after a 200-year-old storm hits an unprepared region.

They told us to not just go down the main street but into the housing developments. Only the slightest margin occupy their homes anymore, most live in tent cities now. Many of these people stayed in their homes, having other Floridians come to stay with them, because the storm wasn’t supposed to hit there and by the time it did hit, it was too late to leave. I asked a lady where the most help was needed and she said the kids. My heart went in my throat, as I asked, what about the kids. She said they desperately needed shoes. Most left their homes with very few possessions and because Florida has a warmer climate, shoes weren’t immediately thought of. Which is fine but that was 5-6 weeks ago. Now the temperatures are dropping and the humidity that once kept people warm makes things colder.

I decided to get involved and contacted the Bay County School District. Our very good friends Bob and Danielle Thayer, own the Northside shoe company. I immediately called her and asked if they’d be willing to help. Danielle didn’t even hesitate and is preparing to do just that.

We have access to shipping and want to ship two pallets (each has a 110 – 12 x 12 x 12 box capacity), over as soon as possible and I’m hoping to have it full.
What really propelled me into action was it rained the entire week and a half we were there. The last two nights, the temperature dropped to where I could see my breath, and the humidity that settled on everything kept it wet and made everything so much colder. These kids had their lives feel normal, and in one day they lost their house, sense of security, clothes, toys, and even their school. As adults, we can look at that and understand how it happened. However, as little ones, they have no idea and what’s worse is Thanksgiving and Christmas are coming, they’ll be without homes for months, in fact, close to a year and beyond. There’s no electricity and no place to just be a kid (most of the tent cities are on concrete parking lots). For the older kids, they’re a little forgotten, because they aren’t little but they’re not yet adults. I’m sure you could appreciate, as a teenager, what it’s like to have all your possessions stripped away and now living in a tent. I didn’t know how bad it was until we drove through there and I admit I cried the whole time because it’s all just gone.
I know you’re busy. Truly, I know you are but something like this could happen to any one of us. In the greater Seattle area, one major earthquake is all it would take. The news always moves on to the next thing, and we forget there are people in our own backyard suffering. So, I’m encouraging people to act, hold a small drive, send some money, go down for a week, and clear out debris, if you have the capability to do so. The people there are fully aware of your sacrifice and are so incredibly gracious and grateful. Below I attached the letter I received from the school district with where to send things and if you are in the general area of Snohomish county I will soon be posting where you can drop things off at.
The items need to be new or very gently used: Ages K-12; BLANKETS, socks, beanie style hats, fleece jacket and hoodies, jackets, gloves, scarves,
The items that need to be new: Toys or age-appropriate Christmas gifts for ages K-12; Unwrapped, please!
Lastly, beware of sending money! Because we’re busy people, we might think it’s easier to just send money and that’s great. However, there are many scams going on down there right now. I asked a lot of different people where the real supplies and money are coming from, or who gives most of the proceeds directly to those in need. The biggest sources of support were the big guys, Salvation Army and Red Cross You’ll notice I didn’t ask for food and the reason for that is the churches in the area have rallied in that department and surrounding counties and states can and are doing a better job than we can. The churches and larger disaster relief people are the ones providing food, toiletries, tents, etc. but none of it comes for free, not even to them. So, if you or your church wants to support another church financially, you couldn’t go wrong. Just let them know what you’d like the funds to be used for. Pretty much any church in Bay County or Panama City, Florida,class,church,scfips,12005.cfm have been the rock-stars over there.
I sincerely hope each and every one of you has a very blessed Thanksgiving!

Here’s the note I received from the Bay County School District. The kids in the badly hit counties have all been absorbed into other schools and only started school again last week. They’re trying to keep the class sizes down but as you can imagine it’s difficult. The teachers I spoke with said they’re also in desperate need of school supplies!

Hi Jeny,
Thank you so much for offering to help and talking with us 🙂 
We also need jackets (fleece, hoodies, etc.), socks, beanie-style hats, gloves etc.  Our weather has turned and we estimate that 14,000 children have lost everything so they have lost those items as well.  We have a big hoodie/fleece drive going on right now, which is amazing but the need is great and will be ongoing. Also, blankets, get wet, and with no electricity, we can’t dry them out very well, so again the need is ongoing.
We are also kicking off #SalvageChristmas ... those same children who lost everything are going to need Christmas and their parents are going to need help. So we want to collect 14,000 gifts for children (new, unwrapped toys, books, and gift cards) so their parents can have a little peace of mind this holiday season and know that Santa is taken care of.
ALL of those things can come to our Warehouse, to my attention:
Sharon Michalik
BDS Rebuilds
1120 W. 17th St.
Panama City, FL 32405
The jackets and shoes are ASAP.
The toys are now through 12/18/18 (so we can get them distributed).
Thank you!

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About Jeny

Jeny Heckman is the award-winning Paranormal and Fantasy Romance author of the Heaven & Earth series. Since her series debut in 2018, Jeny has captured the imagination and inspired the journey of readers worldwide.


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