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UF/IFAS Extension Northwest District Faculty Persevere, Help Others After Hurricane

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — As the point of contact at the Veterans Memorial Civic Center in Bristol, Florida, Monica Brinkley finds herself on the front lines, helping Hurricane Michael victims in Liberty County.

Brinkley, the director of University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension Liberty County, set up shop on the Saturday after the hurricane struck the Panhandle. FEMA came to the civic center on Monday. Now, Brinkley works hand-in-glove with the federal agency.

Every day, people drop off food, cleaning supplies, baby supplies – vital supplies – for those in need. The next day, Brinkley and others deliver the supplies to residents struck by the storm. FEMA supplies meals ready to eat (MREs), ice, bottled water and tarps.

“By God’s grace, I have an amazing amount of energy,” Brinkley said. “Things are flowing. As soon as I feel like I’m depleted, volunteers show up.”

Brinkley is just one of many examples of UF/IFAS Extension faculty who have dusted themselves off after dealing with their own personal losses in the wake of the hurricane and are now aiding others.

For example, Doug Mayo, director of UF/IFAS Extension Jackson County works with a team to distribute livestock supplies and feed to ranchers in the Panhandle.

In Wakulla County, the UF/IFAS Extension office has become an important donation site for hurricane relief, collecting 1,500 MREs, 2,000 cases of bottled water, 500 personal care kits, 500 diapers, 300 snack bags and 200 loaves of bread, with more items coming in each day. 4-H agent Rachel Pienta coordinates these efforts and works with local law enforcement, municipal governments and chambers of commerce across the Panhandle to distribute donations.

Pete Vergot, the director of the UF/IFAS Extension Northwest District, paints a picture of resilience as he talks about the efforts of Panhandle residents and UF/IFAS Extension faculty to recover after Hurricane Michael.

“It’s been seven long days, and my faculty and their staff are surviving,” said Vergot, director of the UF/IFAS Extension Northwest District. “The Bay County faculty were dealt the worst hand. I still have many faculty and staff in many counties on generators while they work on getting supplies to families and farmers in their counties. Their homes are secure, and people are safe, but challenges never go away.”

UF/IFAS Extension operates an office in every county in the state.

For example, cell service is challenging, making communications difficult, Vergot said Friday. Bay County also needs help this weekend with yard cleanup, Extension officials said.

“All of my faculty and staff are working tirelessly each day, trying to support people,” he said. “Many of them are working on generators, others driving many miles from before daylight to past dark to work in their respective counties.”

Many faculty will be working this weekend, managing the agricultural support centers in Jackson and Washington counties and in their own counties, Vergot said.

Vergot thanked Nick Place, dean of UF/IFAS Extension and director of the Florida Cooperative Extension Service, for his support.

“Over this past week, this experience again shows the resilience and strength of our faculty and staff,” Place said Friday. “Those directly affected are doing a yeoman’s job to deal with multiple personal issues while yet being there to be at emergency operations centers, gather damage assessment data, provide assistance to clientele who have lost significant parts of their businesses, answer questions from the public, run warehouses of FEMA supplies, hand out supplies to the public and juggle multiple other tasks.”

In the spirit of 4-H helping those in need,  UF/IFAS Extension Florida 4-H Camp Timpoochee has opened its doors to an help an organization that’s assisting people affected by Hurricane Michael. Camp Timpoochee, a residential youth camp in Okaloosa County, is now a holding station for the Global Surgical and Medical Support Group. This group is sending teams out daily to administer medical care and supplies. They are using the camp’s pavilion and craft hall as a holding site and as their headquarters.

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By: Brad Buck, 352-294-3303, bradbuck@ufl.edu

and Samantha Grenrock, 352-294-3307, grenrosa@ufl.edu

Contact: Pete Vergot, pvergot@ufl.edu

The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS web site at ifas.ufl.edu and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.

 

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