Giving a helping hand after hurricane

Nathan Cobb | 315-4432 | @WaltonSunNate |
Preserving South Walton volunteers visit Cavern's Learning Center in Marianna to help unload supplies. [CONTRIBUTED PHOTO]

A local non-profit has unofficially shifted its mission from promoting responsible land development to hurricane relief.

After Hurricane Michael terrorized areas along the Panhandle, Preserving South Walton shifted all its efforts to gathering supplies, money and helping families whose homes were destroyed.

"It's a running-with-your-hair-on-fire kind of issue," said Wesley Herndon, the nonprofit's president, who added that a lot of times there's an immediate push to help communities after natural disasters hit that ends up dying down a month or so later. "Our goal is to not forget about this and do our best to keep people from forgetting about it."

While the nonprofit is gathering supplies and accepting donations — with 100 percent going to relief funds — their main focus is finding temporary housing for displaced victims.

They have drop off locations at What's Up Dog in Miramar Beach, Gulf Winds Paddle and Surf, Red's Fueling Station in Blue Mountain Beach, Modern Air in Panama City Beach, 30A Oil Company and are adding more each day.

"People in our community have been amazing," said Steven Burnett, vice president of the nonprofit. "The most difficult part right now is trying to coordinate housing for those who need it. ... We need more help from local property managers reaching out to their owners to find temporary housing solutions for those displaced."

Burnett added that during times like this, it's important to try and put yourself in the affected person's position, because people sometimes say things they might not necessarily mean when they're under extreme stress.

Currently, they've found housing for seven families and have a long waiting list of others, with available properties running out.

"Empty homes and empty condos are a premium right now," Herndon said. "People either have somebody booked or they're concerned about doing something longer than 30 days because people end up with squatters' rights and it's more difficult to get them out."

Herndon said that they're asking the families to pay what they can and using Preserving South Walton's nonprofit status to help give organizations an extra incentive to help.

"Not that they necessarily need that in these times, everybody's heart is very open, but sometimes that little added incentive helps, especially when somebody's bottom line is in danger," he said.

To let the group know you need help, send them a Facebook message including your family size, whether or not you have pets and if anyone in your family has special needs.

They've already taken trips to Marianna, Chipley and Panama City, where they gave out nearly 200 gallons of gasoline — though Herndon said he plans to and wanted to bring more — and will visit other impacted areas like Blountstown and Mexico Beach in the near future.

The group also accepts cash donations for hurricane relief through their Facebook page and website.

"It's not about who gets the glory in this," Herndon said. "It's about helping those people."