On the eve of Labor Day, in the aftermath of Hurricane Idalia, the way the Incident Management Team (IMT) supports each other in times of toil and joy, and missed vacation time, is so important.
Each position on the Florida IMT team, as well as its feeding teams and volunteers, plays a significant role. Each person is dependent on the skills and strengths of the others. The frenetic pace is intense. The hours are long. But the tired relief workers know their sacrifice pales in comparison to the survivors of Hurricane Idalia who have suffered catastrophic loss and trauma.
The region has suffered one of the worst disasters it has seen in decades, surprising residents of Keaton Beach like Brian Harper, who had been comfortably insulated from hurricanes that have devasted other regions of the state before. “I haven’t experienced anything like this in the years I’ve lived here."
As I serve on my second major disaster as a Public Information Officer, I am still astounded at how quickly and efficiently The Salvation Army responds to disaster situations with military precision. That's why the structure works, but that's also the beauty of it.
In Perry, in Taylor County, where the West Palm Beach mobile canteen was traveling, I saw long lines, that wrapped around the street, forming in the Winn-Dixie parking lot. Hundreds waited in line for food distribution. Just as I wondered how we would get things organized, the Panama City Sheriff’s unit arrived, and our teams were able to set up the canteen and start feeding.
Our staff was amazing as always, but the demand was high. I sprang into action alongside Dan Hager, a volunteer and former golf professional and chaplain of the Palm Beach area command. One after another, I began spooning carefully prepared hot meals, provided by VOAD partner the Florida Baptists, into serving containers. Like switching one's hat, springing into action to serve the people requires pivoting quickly to meet the needs of the moment.
Day quickly turned into night, but not before a torrential rainstorm with thunder and lightning halted the service of delivery temporarily. The West Palm Beach unit was unstoppable. The "Cambros," as the foam coolers containing the hot food are called, kept the temperature of the meals just right. The meals were hearty: chicken dumplings and carrots, or beef goulash and black beans, or beef stroganoff and rice.
The Public Information Officer for the Incident Management Team, Major Thomas Richmond, a tall, burly man with a "great face for radio" as he says in a light-hearted, self-deprecating manner, who has served in The Salvation Army for 27 years, also jumped into action. When he was not feeding, he offered emotional and spiritual care.
During an impromptu visit on Sept. 2, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis stopped at the Daytona Beach Rapid Response Unit in Keaton Beach to thank The Salvation Army for their efforts on the ground and to listen with kindness to the neighbors who had been affected by Hurricane Idalia.
One thing that stood out above all else was the unwavering resolve of the people. Labor Day reminds us of the worker's role in American society and the importance of rest and regeneration. Our lives are inextricably linked, and if one individual is down, we stand together to lift that individual up so that we all thrive together stronger and better as a nation and as a people. We all possess time, talent, and treasures that are unique to us, and no matter where we are in life, when we respond with a "yes" to God's call, we will be fulfilled.
After disasters strike, it takes a community to support and rebuild. Here are some ways you can help: