Disaster teams are coordinating volunteers and planning logistics to provide food, comfort, and shelter as Hurricane Irma barrels toward the mainland.
These volunteers provide everything from sandbagging to fixing hot meals and manning local shelters. They’re often the first to appear after a disaster to ensure survivors can get back in their homes and rebuild their communities.
Gov. Rick Scott urged residents to help their communities and set a goal of 17,000 volunteers statewide. So far, more than 700 state employees and more than 3,200 members of the public have signed up with the American Red Cross to take the volunteer sheltering training.
Red Cross teams are arriving in Orlando for staging with 26 tractor trailers at the State Logistics Response Center, 150 trailers at the State Farmers Market, and 100 emergency response vehicles in North Florida. They are also sending 1,000 volunteers.
The Salvation Army’s Orlando mobile canteen is on one of 32 cooking units awaiting deployment. The canteen and three volunteers just returned Wednesday night from a nine-day trip to Houston providing hot meals to victims of Hurricane Harvey.
Steve Rocca returned to his Mt. Dora home Wednesday and spent Thursday cleaning the mobile unit and loading it up with supplies to get ready for Hurricane Irma.
“It’s not just physically exhausting but also very emotional,” said Rocca, a Salvation Army advisory board member who has volunteered with the organization for eight years. “You give a lot of hugs and see a lot of tears, but it’s a great comfort because you get a lot back from volunteering.”
The canteen dished up hot meals like ravioli and beef stew to Houston residents whose homes were flooded by Hurricane Harvey. The mobile unit can feed up to 500 meals a day and is restocking for its next assignment.
Tiffani Jett, spokesperson for the Salvation Army’s Orlando office, said they have a database of thousands of volunteers they will reach out to as soon as they are assigned a location. She said new volunteers can register at: disaster.salvationarmyusa.org. The organization also is asking that people give monetary donations, by going to: helpsalvationarmy.org or texting STORM to 5155.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has 18 emergency response teams for deployment to impacted areas and seven logistics and planning teams.
The Central Florida Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 4 Team just returned to Orlando Tuesday after performing 900 rescues during their 10-day deployment in Beaumont, Texas.
“We’re ready to go again,” said Orlando Fire Deparrtment Lt. Craig Hulette. “We don’t pick what the weather does.”
Several religious groups are also ready to respond.
The Florida Baptist Convention has 35 kitchens on standby that can feed 35,000 meals a day. The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Florida has showers and trailers in Pensacola and Lakeland for deployment.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has teams ready with chainsaws, tarps, and water. Elder Douglas Carter, who leads the disaster team efforts for the Southeastern United States, said they’ve spent the past week planning for the relief efforts by lining up supplies from their distribution center and identifying work teams.
The church will mobilize 2,000 to 3,000 volunteers from Central Florida and as far north as North Carolina and Mississippi to help with Hurricane Irma cleanup. The volunteers bring sleeping bags and camp out near their location.
“We enjoy helping the community and we feel like we’re representing Jesus Christ by our actions and not just by our words,” said Carter, who lives in Mt. Dora.
Volunteer Florida is coordinating with volunteer organizations across the state and has partnered with the American Red Cross to provide shelter operations training to volunteers. To volunteer, go to volunteerflorida.org or call 1-800-FL-Help-1.