FORT MYERS BEACH, FLORIDA — While Floridians share photos and videos of hurricane-impacted areas, they don’t often show the full scope of the widespread damage. “I think that’s the case many times in disasters – you see the pictures, but when you get there in person and see it with your own eyes, it’s intense. The pictures don’t show the magnitude or the full scope of it,” said Ethan Forhetz, Vice President of Public Engagement for Convoy of Hope.
A faith-based humanitarian organization, and one of Forbes’ Top 100 charities, Convoy of Hope works alongside communities experiencing natural disasters with strategically-designed programs fueled by kindness.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, local churches shine like a light in southwest Florida. The Florida Standard sat down with Convoy of Hope, who partners with local churches in the coastal communities of Lee County.
“Some parts of the Fort Myers Beach area are decimated. There are concrete slabs where houses used to be, so the destruction is devastating in some areas,” said Forhetz.
PLANNING FOR A PURPOSE
Hurricanes, unlike other natural disasters, have significant warning periods. “We were able to plan in advance,” Forhetz said. “When we saw the trajectory, we started talking with people on the ground in the target areas.”
On Monday and Tuesday, just before the storm made landfall, volunteers put together more than 10,000 bags of groceries. “Our teams began loading our tractor trailers with more than 35,000 bottles of water, hygiene kits, and baby supplies, and that was just the initial phase,” he added.
Talking to local partners and churches on the ground is an essential step Convoy of Hope takes when planning a relief operation. “Many times, those partners are churches because they have the big parking lot we can land on. But they also have an army of amazing volunteers we can call on,” said Forhetz.
When Convoy of Hope arrived in southwest Florida, they brought their own bunk trailers, kitchen trailers, and food to be completely self-sufficient. Their number one goal is to provide help to those in need – not to be a drain on the community.
“We supply all of the resources and manage the distribution. Then volunteers from the local church pass out the supplies to their neighbors. So it really gets to be neighbor helping neighbor, which is a great way to build community,” said Forhetz.
MEETING PHYSICAL AND SPIRITUAL NEEDS
As the organization speaks to people in the outlying communities, they get a sense of where the help is most needed. “We’re taking teams out into the surrounding neighborhoods with the supplies. We’re also setting up smaller distribution points in surrounding towns to make it easier for people to get to us,” Forhetz added.
Convoy of Hope set up a home base in Fort Myers Beach. They expect to bring more than one hundred semi trucks of supplies through the area in the next few weeks. “It's a massive undertaking to get all of those supplies into the area and store it,” said Forhetz. A massive tent serves as the central warehouse in the field. From there, smaller trucks will go out into the surrounding communities to distribute much-needed supplies.
A COMMON BOND
“Disasters have a way of bringing people together,” Forhetz reflected. “I think during those times, we as people realize what’s truly important, and that is our lives and our relationships – more so than the things that we argue about during a typical week.”
When people have a common bond, it breaks down barriers. “We can say we all survived this disaster together. We're struggling through the aftermath of it together, and we can get through it together,” Forhetz said. “When we finally leave, the local church is left behind to be the church in these neighborhoods. They will be there to minister to people’s spiritual needs long-term.”
Before donating to any non-profit, you can see reliable ratings at charitynavigator.org. Ratings reflect how efficiently a charity uses its support today, how well it has sustained its programs and services over time, and its commitment to good governance, best practices, and openness with information.