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Coming Back - Irma Knocked Us Down......But Not Out!

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Posted: Friday, September 22, 2017 12:00 am | Updated: 9:32 am, Fri Sep 22, 2017.

Marina Torres and Julissa Cordova

   Marina Torres and Julissa Cordova had heard Farm Share was giving out food and water. They had stockpiled supplies for their families as hurricane season began, but five days after Irma and without power, they had nothing left for their families.

They were in the line at the Florida City Farmer’s Market well before daylight and by the 10 a.m. start of the food giveaway they were the first of an estimated 300 cars in line for food.

Cars in line for miles to receive food and supplies at Farm Share.

   Word got out quickly that Farm Share was doing this because the line of cars snaked through the massive facility and its acres of buildings.

Florida City Mayor Otis Wallace works the prep line at Farm Share.

    To no one’s surprise, among the dozens of volunteers on hand was Mayor Otis Wallace, with rolled up sleeves, filling bags of needed food and water for the estimated thousands that would benefit from this effort.

Farm Share stepped up to help 1000's in South Dade and the Keys.

It appeared over these past days that Farm Share was involved in most of the recovery efforts involving food, water and supplies.

MRE's (Meals Ready to Eat) stacked and ready to head to needy families.

   That’s for good reason. Since Irma, Farm Share has delivered 40,000 pounds of food and water to three Dade County Senior Centers whose employees had evacuated the storm leaving the seniors without food and water; sent 160,000 pounds of supplies to the Fort Myers area; provided 40,000 pounds of supplies to South Dade and Redland Labor Camps; sent 50,000 pounds of supplies to Key Largo; sent over 100,000 pounds of supplies to Big Pine Key and Marathon and too many more to list here. Farm Share has just as many plans for the next several weeks to continue to get everyone fed and comfortable as we continue the recovery.

A flag resiliently flies today in Key Largo, as it did through the hurricane.

   The American flag flew at a property in Key Largo. It was tattered and torn from the storm, but stood tall after Irma went away. The Florida Keys will be cleaning and rebuilding for a long time. The rumors are nearly unbelievable as to the level of death and destruction. The hard facts won’t be known for some time, but one fact we can all believe is the level of destruction in some areas just above and below Cudjoe Key are devastating. Homes and businesses are gone. Divers are searching the waters and dredging to open canals that are now unpassable due to sunken boats are underway. The decision by Monroe County officials to vacate the check points has been openly criticized as to the logic the expected increase in traffic and feared rise in related crime will do as many streets remain powerless and dark.

Water, supplies and food were distributed to those in need at Life Pointe Church.

   Life Point Church on Old Dixie in Homestead had a drive through food distribution this week that again found hundreds of takers still without power and running out of essential supplies.

Farm Share prepping bags and bags of supplies for Centro Campesino

   The good people at Centro Campesino were distributing food and water to many farm workers who were delighted to receive even military grade rations and fresh avocados that had been gathered form the crop mostly lost due to the storm.

Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava helping with Farm Share distribution

   Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava was on hand handing out food and offering strong words of encouragement and optimism.

   News Leader staff were with Homestead Mayor Jeff Porter just before and just after the storm. In one 30 minute period he was called by CNN, NPR and Fox News to do interviews. The entire country wanted updates and he and Mayor Wallace were bombarded by interview requests. One advance team from NBC News in New York came to the News Leader to set up interviews and make connections. Before, during and after the storm Porter and his family never left City Hall. All key city personnel and emergency managers were in the inner sanctum of the new all concrete facility developing plans for our safety before the storm and to manage a quick recovery after.

Homestead Mayor Jeff Porter confers with Rep. Carlos Curbelo in the Homestead Emergency Operations Center.

Congressman Carlos Curbelo was at Homestead City Hall to meet with Porter and his team to help connect the federal government with our area to ensure our residents received the help they would need.

   The efforts from around the country amazed some who hadn’t experienced storm devastation    before. One group, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association ‘flew’ into action at Homestead Airport in the Redland. Pilots from across the country started what they were calling “Aerobridge” and filled their private planes with everything from diapers to drinking water and flew into our local airport. Coordinated there by Yogini Modi and her team, supplies were sorted and designated for the areas where they were most needed.  Some loads were flown further to a small landing field in Summerland Key and some was driven and distributed more locally.

Alfredo Cordero gets help loading supplies in his plane to take to the Lower Keys.

   One local pilot, Alfredo Cordero, owner of Homestead Concrete, was at the front of the line and volunteered to fly his plane to Lakeland Airport and bring back supplies that were dropped there.

   This past Sunday, the News Leader was contacted by Rotarian and realtor at the Keyes Company, Louis Malara about another helping hand from far away. He had been contacted by an organization from New York called United Sikhs. They said they had several tractor trailer loads of food and supplies and were “already on their way to South Florida”. Malara wanted us to help him connect the supplies where they were most needed.  Farm Share to the rescue again.

Farm Share CEO/Homestead Councilman Steve Shelley works out volunteer truck drivers and their rigs filled by donors at Sikh mosques who drove from New York with supplies and food.

A meeting at Farm Share with CEO Stephen Shelley to ask for his agency’s willingness to help, and soon volunteer truck drivers and their rigs filled by donors at Sikh mosques from New York to Florida had a destination for distribution.

   Looking in any direction over the last week, license plates from nearly every state could be seen on utility vehicles, trucks, cars and military vehicles. Working side by side with Homestead Public Services personnel, trucks replacing our electric lines and poles had nearly every home back on the grid by mid-week.

An Alabama utility company came to help with recovery efforts.

Traffic exiting the turnpike in Florida City headed south had countless caravans of volunteers from across the country driving in with manpower and supplies to help. Driving on US #1 between the mainland and the Keys, flashing lights and trucks of every size and shape came. Emergency medical vehicles, pole trucks, welding rigs, electrical and mechanical vehicles, firetrucks, military personnel carriers, even school buses were on every roadway coming into the area.

   Homestead Police Chief Al Rolle and Florida City Chief Pedro Taylor and their officers were adding to the security and traffic control on every major artery in our area. Homestead and Florida City police sent countless officers and material to the Keys to help with the burden faced by Monroe County Sheriff’s Department with traffic control and police protection of residents and properties.

   Dr. Larry Feldman, Dade County School Superintendent called the News Leader Sunday morning and simply said, “we have three truckloads of hot food…where should we take it”. A few calls and that food was enjoyed by folks from Key Largo to South Dade.

   The News Leader received a request for a generator for Sheriff’s Department Deputies in the Keys living in temporary trailers because their homes were heavily damaged by the storm. Rotarian, and great American, Tom Jones, stepped up and offered his generator that can power two units.

   Barbara Quinones, HPS Director, said Homestead would have power restored by Sunday. Looking around at the trees that had taken down many power lines and even more that were leaning on power lines and at the countless power poles snapped off by the hurricane winds, this was thought to be slightly optimistic.

   They did it.

   It is often said that tragedies bring out the best...and worst in people. Yes, there were arrests during and right after the storm of looters. Yes, some business owners saw an opportunity to gouge with pricing at their businesses and others were selectively pricing based on demand. We will remember who they are long after things are back to normal. but overall, the good overwhelmed us. In every direction you can see someone helping. Did you know several local restaurants gave meals away free? That a lot of services were delivered at no charge?

   The News Leader would like to join everyone in saying, “Thank you Homestead, Florida City, Miami Dade and our state and federal officials that are here for us in this time of need. We see what is going on, and why this is a community growing and becoming more tight knit as we grow together.

   Irma challenged us. She won’t be the last. We were ready and we will be even stronger.

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