Eleven days out from Hurricane Michael, Rachel Pienta considers Wakulla County lucky. She’s using that good fortune to help others who aren’t so lucky.
“If the storm had veered a little to the east, it could have been us who were devastated,” the University of Florida faculty member said. “But damage here was minimal compared with other parts of the Panhandle. That’s why we knew we had to help. Since October 14, we have been working around the clock to collect donations, work with relief agencies and move aid west to really small communities who aren’t necessarily getting what they need.”
Pienta and her network of volunteers have collected thousands of cases to water and meals ready to eat, as well as hundreds of personal care kits, diapers and other items. On October 27, they will partner with the Florida Peanut Federation to distribute 36,000 jars of peanut butter donated by Peanut Proud.
“These 36,000 jars will go to the local food aid centers that operate year round to help the Panhandle communities they know so well during this time of recovery,” said Pienta, a 4-H youth development agent with the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension in Wakulla County.
At this time of the year, the 16 UF/IFAS Extension offices in the Panhandle would normally hold the Peanut Butter Challenge, which collects jars of peanut butter to be donated to local food panties. But with Hurricane Michael, the Peanut Butter Challenge has become part of overall hurricane response, Pienta said.
“Building on the work of the Peanut Butter Challenge, our efforts will focus on getting a healthy source of protein into the areas of greatest need across the Panhandle,” she said.
Coordinating hurricane relief efforts isn’t typically part of Pienta’s job as a 4-H agent. But helping others is at the core of 4-H, so Pienta is setting an example for youth in her community, who have likewise taken an active role in gathering donations.
Right now, UF/IFAS Extension 4-H is focused on getting help to smaller, rural communities.
“Right now, a lot of aid is centered in the population centers. But, you’ve got these tiny little towns throughout the Panhandle that haven’t received aid yet. These people needed water and food and basics to sustain life,” Pienta said. “We have folks packing up donation in vans, semis, pick-up trucks, and heading out to these tiny places.”
Livestock and ranchers are getting help, too, Pienta said. “We have specific needs in rural areas. If you’re well isn’t working, how are you supposed to water your horses or cattle? We’re delivering water and hay to horse and cattle troughs, too. Replacing fencing is also a priority,” she said.
To sign up to volunteer to distribute peanut butter or other relief supplies, contact Rachel Pienta at 850-926-3931 or email@example.com.
In addition to food, water and other basics, starting October 29, UF/IFAS Extension Wakulla County will start collecting school supplies for local schools. The Extension office is located at 84 Cedar Avenue, Crawfordville, FL 32327.
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.