We’ve had a remarkable amount of practice helping people and places in a hurricane’s path, this time in the Big Bend and Live Oak.
Jeanna Mastrodicasa again coordinated relief efforts before, during and after Idalia, this time at the new Emergency Operations Center on campus. Jerry Fankhauser in Gainesville and Jim Boyer in Citra again led the cavalry, delivering generators, debris-clearing equipment, high-powered vacs, and more. Last week they rode into Cedar Key and Live Oak to come to the aid of Nature Coast Biological Station and the North Florida Research and Education Center—Suwannee Valley.
Stakeholders need help, too, and we’re there. Christa Court leads critical efforts to document damage to crops and commodities to support relief claims and was in Live Oak the weekend after the storm talking to farmers who’d lost not just their crop but barns, pivots and greenhouses. Angie Lindsey marshals a vast library of preparation and recovery resources.
IFAS always in the path
Much of UF can dodge a hurricane. We at UF/IFAS never can. And wherever it hits, local Extension agents contribute small acts of hurricane heroism.
When someone in Perry suffered a head injury and could not get out of the driveway because of fallen trees, Taylor County Extension Director Lori Wiggins handed over the keys to one of her family’s own vehicles to get the person the help they needed.
Because Lori grew up in Taylor County and her husband is an ex-commissioner, seemingly everyone has her cell number – and uses it. She became a one-woman switchboard connecting those calling in need to those calling to help.
Deep community connection
Another member of the Taylor County Extension team, Abbey Tharpe, spent late last week helping people connect to generators. She, too, grew up in Perry, and she spent many Friday nights under the lights of the high school football field tower. So she cried when Idalia toppled it, because she could feel what a symbolic blow it was to a community that already had great needs before the hurricane.
But Abbey dried the tears, unloaded supplies donated by Wakulla County Extension and said she was moved to be part of the UF/IFAS family.
The worst of times can bring out the best in us. My gratitude goes out to everyone who has come to the support of team members at our research stations and other properties. And it also goes out to those who, like Lori and Abbey, help their communities even while their own homes have suffered damage.
In addition to being in a position to help people everywhere in Florida, we have the disposition as well. The service ethic of UF/IFAS manifests itself daily, but perhaps never more so than during Irma, Michael, Ian and now Idalia.
The days since Aug. 30 have demonstrated once again how special UF/IFAS is. No one else has the same mix of resources, expertise, community connection, and service-oriented mission to persist in helping those in need.