After the cameras go, the United Way is still there

When it comes to finding help from Hurricane Ian, the one organization that comes to mind is the United Way of Collier and the Keys.

Leah Stockton, president of the United Way of Collier and the Keys, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning to talk about the needs of the area.

The United Way is heavily involved in the community organizations active in disaster.

Stockton said, “It’s the umbrella group that all non-profit, government, social services that respond in times of crisis. We work together under this sort of umbrella organizational structure.”

The City of Key West and Monroe County have been looking at damage assessment. Survey results are being complied. It looks like there are a couple hundred addresses and live aboard boats that had significant flooding and damage due to the hurricane.

The next step is advocating for and allocating resources to help the families.

Stockton said, “They’re going to need everything from mold remediation to tearing out drywall, replacing furniture, replacing appliances. It’s sort of like a puzzle and we start to fit the pieces together. Who can provide the appliances? Who can provide the furniture?”

Insurance also needs to be considered.

The declaration from FEMA as to whether or not the Keys will be eligible for individual assistance is still in the waiting process.

Stockton said, “That would make a significant difference in what we would be able to offer to help our local residents, if we could have that FEMA assistance. Our families really need it.”

SBA (Small Business Administration) assistance in the form of low interest loans are also available.

Stockton said, “Where our work really comes in is after the cameras have gone, after the news cycle has moved on, for those months and even years ahead. We are still helping people in Big Pine that had Hurricane Irma damage. It’s been five years. We still have a grant through Volunteer Florida to do disaster repairs on their homes. We know that this is a long haul and that I think is where United Way becomes key is that we’re still here for our residents because we’re here day in day out anyway and we can step forward and help with that longer rebuilding and recovery process.”

Stockton started with the United Way just two months after Hurricane Irma.

Stockton said, “The good side of that – I always try and look for what is the positive – is that as a community, we know what we’re doing this time. More than we did from Irma because there was such a longer gap between Irma and Wilma that now we know the drill. We know what we need to be doing. There are people our community that have lost everything, but the magnitude is smaller so we’re able to hone in on which families exactly need that help.”

Be Like Mike Week will honor the memory of Mike Forster and his legacy.

Stockton said, “This is something that we’re very proud of. Mike served on our board. He was on our board at the time of his passing and we started to think about a way to honor his legacy. We didn’t just want to make a one-time gift or do something small. We really wanted to continue his work forward in the community.”

Next week is the very first Be Like Mike Week, where anyone in the community is encouraged to perform random acts of kindness, small gestures of good will.

For more information on Be Like Mike Week, click here:

Stockton said, “Now is when we need it more than ever. Now is when our community pulls together, so please continue Mike’s good work in the community next week using Be Like Mike.”

Anyone who would like to help with Hurricane Ian clean up efforts, either at home or on the west coast of Florida, donations are welcome.

Stockton said, “Or find another organization near and dear to your heart. Pets, children, there’s a bird sanctuary that had heavy damages along the southwest coast, veterans, whatever speaks to you. Every non-profit, every organization is helping and is recovering themselves. Financial donations, I cannot stress enough that that is the way to go. It’s the way to regenerate the local economy. It’s the most fluid form of help. Give to a reputable organization and be assured that they are going to use your funds to do the work that needs to be done.”

If you need immediate help from Hurricane Ian, click here: