With the passing of the storm and cleanup underway, our community breathes a collective sigh of relief as most have come through relatively unscathed. There was destruction and flooding, people were out of work for some time, businesses and families suffered losses, and kids found themselves on an extended school break, but we were all prepared for a much different outcome.
Out of the storm emerged many lessons. I guess that is how we positively process the emotional aftermath of this experience. A storm of this magnitude brought so many uncertainties as we struggled to prepare our homes, drained our bank accounts on supplies and perceived necessities (I have learned that when crisis comes, I turn to Doritos). We made our plans with loved ones with whom we hoped to connect afterwards, and spent time wrapping our brains around what might come. It feels like we all need one giant sleep to circumvent the hours spent awake, making sure we were up-to-speed on the latest advisories. For many of our friends, there was a different level of waiting going on, one in which talents and tenacity were put to test helping the most vulnerable members in our area seek shelter. Tatum Ridge Elementary was ground zero for Hurricane Humanity.
Until the idea of a shelter came into play I hadn’t given much thought as to who runs it, what essentials, if any, are provided there, and just how many people come to rely on places like this. Through social media I feel blessed to have witnessed the heroics of school administrators, teachers, doctors, nurses, police officers, and so many others who jumped into action as I was jumping under the covers. Being a special needs shelter, Tatum Ridge had obstacles to overcome that would seem insurmountable on a day with electricity, let alone during a major hurricane. People like my friend, Alison Rini, Assistant Vice Principal, Grades 2 through 5 at Pine View School, and our very own Dr. Stephen Covert, Principal at Pine View were two such individuals who volunteered countless hours to make sure evacuees, some nearly centenarians, were not only safe in practicality terms, but also were made to feel cared for on an individual basis. With power outages and generators failing, the team used ingenuity and sheer will to make sure the people with oxygen tanks could breathe easy. The coordination involved 900 evacuees, a staggering number, and with time constraints looming, the group at Tatum Ridge got it done. I am in awe of our school administrators, and so many others from area schools, along with all the first responders and other volunteers who kept not only those people safe and calm, but also their family members and countless pets who were hunkered down in the shelter. The photos and captions are courtesy of Alison Rini, one of our hometown heroic volunteers, who narrated very well just what the group experienced. We thank all of you who went the extra mile during Hurricane Irma, your efforts did not go unnoticed.
So, what was your individual takeaway from Hurricane Irma? For me, it was the notion of being “neighborly.” Generally, I stick to myself so in the 12 years I have lived in my home I am ashamed to say I barely knew my neighbors, but afterwards, I can call many of them friends. The coach across the street invited us into his classroom at his school, and we invited another neighborhood family, unfamiliar with hurricanes and visibly shaken, to stay with us. But, my favorite post-Irma moment happened with the guy who lives behind us. When we moved into our home, right after Hurricane Charley blew through many years ago, I was eight months pregnant, hadn’t had power or a shower for days and was just so glad to finally move in. That neighbor, James, warmed our hearts with kindness when he walked through our yard to deliver a hot steak dinner to me and my husband on that first day in our new home. As a result, we added a welcoming gate when we put a fence up to keep our dog in. Sadly, we haven’t used that gate even one time to connect with James in all of these years, until last Tuesday when we delivered a hot breakfast to him. It took a little pushing on that old gate, as the weeds had grown up and the latch was rusted. But in the end, we returned the favor and are going to make sure that being neighborly is something we do the other 90% of time that we live in paradise and are not dodging hurricanes.
Editors Note; Hover over photos for more information- Headline photo is #4
1. Saturday morning – I was so sad to leave Siesta and report for work at a shelter, not knowing what the island would look like when I saw it next. But parking at Tatum Ridge Elementary School, I started meeting all these amazing nurses and support staff, all showing up and ready to help. Here is the nurses meeting Saturday morning before the special needs guests started arriving. These ladies were unbelievable
2. The lifeguards from the beaches were setting up oxygen tanks. So many people were working at the shelter, bringing so many skills and such generosity.
3. The police officers were amazing. They would do anything for anyone. The conversations they had about their need to help someone, even at their own risk, put everything into perspective. One of them was chatting and said he had reminded his wife of his funeral preferences before he left that night and he was all good. I know some first responders did get killed in other parts of the state and the men at our shelter helped me understand how lucky we are. These people give so selflessly.
4. Amazing APs and their families moving beds around in the most uplifting 4th grade classroom to accommodate my party of 8 for Sunday night sleepover! 20 of us ended up sleeping in that room + 5 dogs and 2 cats!
5. Juxtaposition of the beautiful classroom decor and the scene of triage inside – the Tatum teachers created such gorgeous environments for their students, never dreaming how they would end up also uplifting hundreds of people with special needs during a terrifying storm! There were sick people everywhere – each hallway was lined with cots on both sides. Being in a beautiful school like this made all of us feel better
photos by Jodi Schwarzenbach