MARY ESTHER — Hurricane Michael prompted businesses and individuals to bring relief efforts to those most affected by the devastating storm.
One such person was Jessica Kelly, an ERA real estate agent from Mary Esther.
Just days after the Oct. 10 hurricane — which devastated large swaths of Bay County — Kelly decided to check on her close friend in Callaway. Due to downed trees, she had to park and walk the very end of the trip. It was then she discovered a low-income trailer park where 32 families had lost everything.
Kelly made a commitment to return to the community with supplies — but what started as a small project quickly blossomed into a full-blown community transformation.
“I made a promise to this community that first day that I would not stop coming back until they didn’t need me anymore,” Kelly said.
As a real estate agent, Kelly knew that the families would not qualify for FEMA assistance since they did not own their homes. So, she gathered what resources she had and spread the word on social media.
The response, she said, was overwhelming.
“I came home, I got on Facebook, and I blasted it everywhere," Kelly said. "We got a squadron from Hurlburt Field to come help cut down trees and help tarp houses. We were there in the beginning almost every day, for four days at a time. We were running everything through my friend’s house.”
Three churches, seven local businesses and countless individuals joined Kelly’s call which she nicknamed, “Project: The Hope of Callaway.” Two nonprofit charities were born: Panhandlerelief.org and Hopepanhandle.org.
Peggy King of Legendary Marine helped to found Panhandlerelief.org through her company OneWaterMarine.
"This is not something that is going to go away in a month or so," King said. "Every penny donated is given locally."
To date, the project has raised $250,000 and secured a two-year lease on the 5-acre trailer park to rebuild the community. Committing to help the trailer park for two years, the charity has also donated three new trailers thanks to donations from Pursuit Boats through Legendary Marine. More debris cleaning and trailer donations are planned.
Cassandra Turner received one of the new trailers. The single mother — who is also the caregiver for her mother and grandmother — was overcome with emotion.
“I can’t help but feel a little undeserving,” Turner wrote in a text to Kelly. “I just feel as if there is someone out there trying a lot harder than me, also in need. But I am beyond thankful.
"That is going to be what gets me back up.”