Locals unite through Facebook to help hurricane victims

Nathan Cobb | 315-4432 | @WaltonSunNate | nathan@waltonsun.com
Kyle Swift stands with Eugene Brown, a Marianna local that has cooked nearly 1,000 meals a day for members of his community since the storm. [CONTRIBUTED PHOTO]

A local Facebook page recently synchronized the efforts of more than 350 people to help with hurricane relief.

SoWal United Hurricane Relief was created by Jessie Harris, a local stay-at-home-mom who saw her community's passion to help the victims of Hurricane Michael. To join everyone's efforts in the most efficient way possible, she created a public Facebook page, inviting all of her friends and anyone else who wanted to contribute.

"We want to make sure that we rebuild and restore and these people have a home to go to and food to eat and clothes to wear, and that's our goal," Harris said. "We're not going to stop until they're taken care of."

Harris said that SoWal United isn't necessarily an organization, but just a group of local people — with some members extending into neighboring counties — trying to join together. She also said there are a few different organizations operating within the group like Good News United Methodist Church, Ohana Institute and Flip Flop FLoatilla.

"It just opens up the whole community," she said. "You're meeting people you didn't even know before, but everyone has the same goal."

Recently, some members traveled to Marianna to host a block party for a resident that had cooked nearly 1,000 meals a day for his community since the storm hit. During the luncheon, around 800 plates were passed out, along with other donations. 

While there, Harris said the devastation was astonishing.

"It's just horrible," she said. "I mean, I never realized how many trees there were until you see them just snapped in half."

Kyle Swift, a local who works in sales for Ben E. Keith Company and runs a private chef service in South Walton, said that he met the Marianna resident while there helping move debris.

He saw a sign saying free food and decided to stop in, check it out and drop off some donations.

"It was just him and a few family members and friends basically cooking anything that was donated, anything they could go out and find," Swift said.

He said that members of the group spent last week taking him supplies, donations and food from Ben E. Keith.  

"Throughout the week, I told him that we were going to give him a break because he was working 16 hours a day," Swift said. "I told him Sunday, we'll just come up with our crew for the day so that he can relax."

Many of the group's members have gofundme pages, along with one created by Swift called South Walton Hurricane Relief Teams that has raised almost $5,000. Harris said that the group works to raise money for different causes, so fundraisers don't clash.

"We originally started with a $1,000 goal and that grew and grew and grew," Swift said.

Swift said that in the future, the group will transfer the funds from the gofundme to help provide food for the affected areas. Many of the members of SoWal United are chefs and restaurateurs.

He added that the group started off with just a few friends from around the area and snowballed into so much more.

Even though members of SoWal United plan to transition back into their everyday routines, Swift said that they will continue to work with Food for Though and Goodwill Methodist Church to help our friends to the east bounce back.

"We're just local people trying to help our neighbors," Harris said. "That's kind of the biggest thing. We're not seeing a lot in the national news anymore. It seems like the honeymoon on that passed quickly and people have moved on, but we're not willing to more on."