When the strongest hurricane to hit the Florida Panhandle devasted several communities in early October, Henderson City Manager Buzzy Newman headed down south to give a helping hand.
Newman worked for the “Feed the Gulf” organization in Panama City. He reported to St. Andrews Church in Panama City, where the church was roofless, thanks to the storm, and the inside was saturated by storm surge from a nearby canal.
Newman, one of 30 volunteers on-site who wasn’t from the area, worked in the parking lot unloading tractor trailers and cargo trailers of donated items from around the country.
When he arrived, the donated items were stored in the parking lot, partially covered with tarps and exposed to the weather.
“Nothing was organized, and you had to figure out what was under the tarps,” Newman said, explaining that he and three elderly men from the church got everything organized and tarped.
One of them acquired a forklift from a contractor working down the street to assist with unloading the next tractor-trailers that arrived with supplies.
“What was unique to me was there was a large tent (40-foot by 100-foot) that was set up like a grocery store,” he said. “Those in need came each day and were assigned a host from the volunteer pool of church members. Each host would take the family on a shopping trip utilizing portable wagons.”
Supplies that were available consisted of canned goods, dry cereal, bread products, high-protein drinks and bars, cleaning supplies, personal hygiene products, diapers and baby items, paper products and over the counter medical supplies.
There was very little peanut butter available, he noted, and too much bottled water.
Newman said that people who arrived each day to gather supplies arrived on foot, on bicycles and in cars.
“Disaster doesn’t discriminate. It effects all races, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds,” Newman said.
One of the people Newman met was a trucker from Central America.
“He spoke very little English, and was amazed by the generosity of Americans,” Newman recalled. “He said that he travels quite often from Mexico to the U.S. hauling goods. He was headed back to Mexico with an empty trailer, so he opted to swing by with a load of supplies at his own expense.”
Another person Newman met was a young man – a member of St. Andrews Church – whose job was to sort and stack canned goods.
“He was autistic, but to watch him work was amazing and good to learn that people with disabilities can help anywhere if you find them the right job,” the city manager said.
Since Newman’s return, he has spoken with the General Manager of Henderson Municipal Power & Light, and the Director of Henderson Emergency Management, about the need to begin meeting and working on disaster planning.
“Being prepared is one thing I have brought back with me,” Newman said. “I intend to follow through with City department heads and community organizations to become better prepared.”
(This story was originally published on December 5, 2018)