Community-oriented volunteer board to take over hurricane recovery in Gadsden County

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By: Katie Kaplan | WCTV Eyewitness News
February 13, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) – It has been more than four months since Hurricane Michael made landfall in the Big Bend and recovery efforts are ongoing in Gadsden County. Many homes were still covered in blue tarps on Tuesday afternoon.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency will close its Disaster Recovery Center in the county on Friday, which will leave much of the continued relief efforts to be coordinated by a local team of volunteers.

"Nobody is going to bring in that big pot of money," said Major Shawn Wood with the Gadsden County Sheriff's Office.

Wood addressed a full room inside the sheriff's office Tuesday night, where a meeting to form a long term recovery team for the county was being held.

"The good. The bad. The ugly. The rich. The poor. Everybody still needs help," said Paul Ladd, pastor of Faith Heritage Church. "There are people that still have tarps and trees leaning on their yard who don't have the wherewithal or power to take care of it."

Representatives from FEMA were at the meeting to coach the locals on how to handle the next step, including the responsibilities of the new volunteer group.

"We just needed to get the individuals in place to get the job done," said Havana resident Tiffany Knight.

The board has been commissioned to write a set of bylaws and a mission statement. It will have several functions, including to provide assistance, monetary support and any other form of aid that is needed and which can be supplied. Any previously "unmet needs" will be addressed by the board on a case-by-case basis and aid will be funded through grants, volunteerism and donations, said the FEMA rep.

"The biggest takeaway is there is still help available," said Knight.

Wood said he needs at least 150 churches out of the roughly 400 in the county to step forward and help fill the need for volunteers and to lend a helping hand to the board's needs.

"It's going to be years before these people are going to be back on their feet," volunteer Alicia Bopp said.

The FEMA reps said the agency will provide guidance to the group and that they would help facilitate connections to about 8,000 different agencies, organizations and nonprofits that can help. They urged people not to give up, nor to lose hope.

The community-based volunteer group is still in need of people and professionals who can volunteer their services or help to fill the board vacancies. For more information, the public should contact the Gadsden County Sheriff's Office. The next meeting is tentatively scheduled for Monday, March 4 at 6 p.m.

Although the FEMA deadline to apply for aid has passed, the representatives urge anyone with a claim to call the hotline at 800-621-3362 and ask for advice on how to file an appeal. They said there is still a chance to receive aid since Hurricane Michael was such a catastrophic event.

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