Nonprofits bringing Christmas to hurricane victims

Nathan Cobb | 315-4432 | @WaltonSunNate | nathan@waltonsun.com
Kyle Swift and his son, Brandon, unload packages of toys that will be given to the sponsored families. [CONTRIBUTED PHOTO]

A collection of local nonprofit groups are working together to make the holiday season merry for victims of Hurricane Michael.

To take some stress from the families whose homes were steamrolled in October, several groups are combining their efforts to host Christmas for the Coast.

The occasion will take 100 different families — focusing on Southport, Lynn Haven, Panama City, Blountstown and Marianna — and host Christmas parties in their honor.

Kyle Swift, a co-founder of South Walton United, said he and Ashley Hackney, another member of the group, came up with the idea, and he plans to host two to three different dinners, dividing up the families between each. Locations for the events are still in the works, but parties will be held on Dec. 22 and 23, he said.

Sponsored families will receive new clothes, a hot meal and a gift from their previously submitted wish-list.

"Christmas is an important time of year for families and communities to come together and share with each other," Swift said. "With everything that these areas have gone through and will face in the days ahead, we feel that keeping the Christmas spirit strong for them is very important."

Chad Zibelman, CEO of The Sonder Project, said that while his organization was working in the affected areas, they created a form for people to request their support — the majority of applicants were families.

As The Sonder Project started thinking of ways to help these families during the holidays, Zibelman said he was approached by Swift, who shared his plan to host a dinner and gift-unwrapping party.

The idea was spot on with what Zibelman said The Sonder Project was looking to do this holiday season, so they decided to combine their efforts to help Swift and the other contributing organizations, including Bay County Strong, Yolo Board Company, Good News United Methodist Church and Food for Thought.

"Our hope is that this will allow the parents of these kids to have one less thing to think about this holiday season, and can feel good knowing that their kids are going to not miss Christmas after they've already had so much routine and normal probably go out the window as a result of the storm," Zibelman said.

Food will be provided by Swift's catering company, Swiftly Catered, along with help from other local restaurants and chefs who have been working with hurricane relief, Swift said.

As of Nov. 21, Swift said they had already raised enough funds to sponsor 50 families, but were continually receiving support from residents and local businesses.

Donations and gifts will be collected through Dec. 17, according to Swift.

To donate to the cause, visit www.gofundme.com/christmas-for-the-coast. To apply for sponsorship or get additional information, contact officials at ChristmasfortheCoast@gmail.com. Applicants can also message the SoWal United for Hurricane Relief and Christmas for the Coast Facebook pages directly.

"There are more ways to help than to donate gifts or funds to the cause," Swift said. "Many supply drops just need hands to help organize and distribute. A lot of people in the rural areas would appreciate someone just stopping by to talk to them. Get out there and spread some joy this holiday season."