Tampa Bay area residents lead grassroots efforts to provide supplies to survivors in Southwest Florida
One group of friends based in St. Petersburg traveled to St. James City in South Pine Island after pooling their gas money, baking home-cooked meals and collecting supply donations from neighbors.
Jimari Hillam takes inventory of the supplies collected on her front patio at her St. Petersburg home.
“So here I’ve got totes full of different hygiene products of donations from a bunch of different people,” she said.
She surveys more than three tables overflowing with miscellaneous items: cleaning supplies, shampoo and conditioner, soaps, toothbrushes, dental cream, feminine products, supermarket eyeglasses, dog food, children’s books and toilet paper.
Along with federal and state initiatives, residents of communities in the Tampa Bay area are leading grassroot efforts to hand-deliver hot meals and practical supplies to those in need along coastal cities in Southwest Florida.
In Tarpon Springs, one group is hosting a concert series and donating the proceeds to Ian victims. Another, titled Neighbors helping Neighbors, is organizing recurring supply drives and deliveries on Facebook.
Hallam has decided to head up what she’s calling the Hurricane Tailgating Pop-Up Challenge to inspire Floridians to help their neighbors who were hardest hit by Ian.
“I would like to think that the same would be done for our area,” she said.
On Saturday, Hallam traveled to St. James City in South Pine Island, with two friends and her son, Elijah. It was her second trip; two weeks ago, she served homemade spaghetti near Matlacha on Pine Island Road.
“As the news changes and people get back to their own lives, they forget about the devastation down there,” she said.
This time, the team of four pitched two tents in a neighborhood boatyard and served hot dogs, fresh off of a portable grill; homemade pulled pork sandwiches; and “redneck corn,” a recipe that calls for the cobs to be boiled and served straight from a cooler. The supplies were also set up in an assembly line for passersby.
Jamie Berdine, who traveled with Hallam, said it felt like the least they could do after witnessing the destruction from Hurricane Ian, which at one point was bound for Tampa.
“People need things now,” she said. “They don't need it weeks from now – they need things now. So, if we can bring some happiness to somebody or some relief for somebody, then you know, that's a joy for all of us.”
Gabriella Paul covers the stories of people living paycheck to paycheck in the greater Tampa Bay region for WUSF. She's also a Report for America corps member. Here’s how you can share your story with her.