SANTA ROSA BEACH — Debris from Hurricane Michael has taken a new form for the holiday season, as a local nonprofit is decking the halls with what the Category 4 storm left behind.
The Sonder Project of Santa Rosa Beach last week created Christmas ornaments out of items such as shingles, siding, tree limbs and old tarps, all in the name of charity.
“We had about 20 volunteers,” said Kim Catellier, domestic project director. “One of the families we are helping came out — a mom and her 5-year-old son — and helped decorate ornaments.”
Catellier explained that the ornaments will be used to decorate the nonprofit’s charity tree at Grand Boulevard’s annual event Festival of Trees.
“So with the Festival of Trees there are over ($7,000) worth of cash available for the organizations that are participating in it, so hopefully we are one of the winners,” she said. “We have been assisting with relief since the hurricane and so we thought it would be a good way to portray that on our annual Christmas tree.”
Founded in 2014, the Sonder Project originally focused on international work by building schools, wells and gardens for villages in Burkina Faso, a landlocked country in west Africa.
After Hurricane Michael, however, the nonprofit's focus turned closer to home. Project volunteers helped clear debris, tarped roofs, provided meals and distributed supplies to the hard-hit neighborhood of Millville, in Panama City, and the city of Springfield, in Bay County.
“I started the domestic position and two days later the hurricane hit,” said Catellier. “We figured, what better way to start our domestic initiative than to put our feet on the ground and help our friends to the east.”
In addition to assisting 120 households with tree removal, roof tarps, electricity and serving up 1,500 hot meals over the past month, The Sonder Project also hosted a free Halloween event for children by offering free costumes and activities.
The nonprofit is now gearing up to put on a Thanksgiving and a Christmas event for hurricane victims. Volunteers said The Sonder Project plans to use any money received from the Christmas tree event towards these projects and future assistance for hurricane relief efforts.