Following Hurricane Matthew’s slight brush with Gainesville, some residents and students have banded together to help those seriously affected by the deadly storm — including those in Haiti and Northern Florida.
On Thursday, a Gainesville Fire Rescue emergency-relief task force drove up to Flagler Beach to help local first responders evacuate residents from homes, many of which were flooded.
They didn’t return until Saturday night, just as First Magnitude Brewing Company in Gainesville was raising about $1,800 for relief efforts in Haiti, where more than 800 people died, according to Reuters.
“Sometimes when you get something like this, it’s just overwhelming,” said Michael Cowart, the GFR operations chief.
In the thick of the storm, the firefighters went door to door through neighborhoods as local departments struggled with a high volume of calls, he said. From the time they arrived to the time they left, the phone calls didn’t stop.
Days before the storm struck Haiti’s southern cities, Santa Fe College agriculture sophomore and international student Daniel Monsanto heard from his family in the country’s capital, Port-au-Prince.
“During the days that it was happening, I was so stressed out,” he said. “I was listening to the news and watching TV, group chatting my family every day.”
He said the southern cities were affected most, and his family and home were spared in the southeast. Monsanto said he and his family often vacation in the south, though, and it is one of the main agricultural areas of the country.
He was there with his family over summer.
“Can you imagine places you’ve visited or vacationed just vanishing because of a storm?” Monsanto said. “Some parts of it are just gone. Places I’ve been.”
He said the damage and destruction are heartbreaking, and people don’t realize what a toll it will take on the economy and resources in the south. Despite being spared from Hurricane Matthew’s effects in Gainesville, students and residents should help in any way they can, he said.
“There are a lot of people down there,” Monsanto said. “I already went through my closet and put clothes in the car I’m ready to send down there. Everyone should have that attitude and pull together for Haiti.”
He said he continues to talk to his family in their WhatsApp group chat every day.
“My family is lucky, and so am I,” he said. “Now they’re all worried about me.”
On Tuesday night, Extreme Dance Company at UF is hosting a fundraiser at Dough Religion Pizza to raise money for hurricane relief in Haiti, said Brittany Baker, the group’s president.
“My family is from Palm Beach County, and the hurricane was supposed to hit them directly,” the UF applied physiology and kinesiology senior said. “Everyone back home is so relieved that nothing happened, but I started looking into places that were affected, and Haiti came up.”
She said the severity of the situation inspired her to do something.
“The first time I looked, the death toll was around 200,” she said. “The next morning, it was over 800. I kind of felt like we needed to do something about it. Our company has gotten significantly bigger over the last few years, and we’re really trying to focus on service.
“This felt like the perfect opportunity to give back to people who desperately need it.”
If customers mention the dance group at the register, a portion of proceeds will be automatically donated to Partners for Health, a charity that will send hurricane relief to Haiti.
Dave Scott, Dough Religion’s general manager, said the restaurant hosts fundraisers two to three times a week during the school year.
“We’re graciously and very happily hosting this event for them,” Scott said. “One thing we take a lot of pride in is being part of the community here in Gainesville, and we’re more than happy to help out.”
Part of an awning gets blown away at Ocean Walk Shoppes, an open-air shopping mall in Daytona Beach, as Hurricane Matthew makes its way through the area on Friday. The eye of Hurricane Matthew was, at one point, about 10 miles off the coast of Daytona Beach.