My younger brother recently paid a brief visit to Port St. Joe.
He and his wife had never been and they were on a family retreat in Rosemary Beach.
So, one day they drove over for lunch.
After a hug and handshake, my brother’s first question was almost heartbreaking.
“When does the relief come?” he wondered. “No, really, where is the relief?”
A question many of us have been asking for months.
We asked as Congress performed its partisan reality show to hold up disaster relief for millions for a border wall.
We’ve been asking as the Florida Legislature spent nearly the entire 60-day session earlier this year dancing around earlier campaign promises to come to the aid of the devastated communities of Northwest Florida.
We’ve been wondering where the relief will come from as the county, along with nine others, including several severely impacted by the hurricane, went without representation in the Florida House of Representatives during the above noted session.
The question has been asked repeatedly as reports are disbursed that revealed that contributions to some of the major fundraising organizations for disaster relief were but a fraction for Michael compared to other disasters and hurricanes.
And all my brother needed was a single drive from Rosemary Beach to Port St. Joe to testify before Congress, the Florida Legislature, anybody wishing to hear, that, hey folks, elected officials in your cushy chairs, people are in need.
Against all that it is hardly a surprise that a survey recently released by REBUILD 850 showed that half the respondents would do nothing to help people affected by the hurricane.
Nearly 3 in 4 said they would not donate to relief efforts.
Talk about a cold drink of empathy-free reality.
Some of those numbers, however, likely reflect the lack of knowledge about the current state of affair after Michael or the belief among many that life has returned to normal in Gulf, Bay, Jackson and other impacted counties.
During a recent educational conference in Orlando, Port St. Joe high school senior Sean Farnsley was a bit miffed by the lack of understanding about Michael’s lingering impacts.
Earlier this summer, a Georgia teenager was lauded by the Port St. Joe Lions Club for his fundraising work after the hurricane; his effort began slowly due to the lack of knowledge among his classmates of what was going on in Florida.
The reality was that fires in a wealthy area of California quickly eclipsed a hurricane that scoured the rural Panhandle from the national media radar; the media left almost as quickly Michael.
Yet, so many remain in trailers as they try to rebuild homes in a highly-competitive market for the workforce that remains short of needs.
There are so many empty lots, so many people who remain displaced, such a lack of legitimate workforce housing when people can find jobs and a yawning distance between the number of jobs and number of workers.
And, there are reports of a looming mental health crisis, particularly among school students.
A survey taken locally underscored the level of food insecurity, homelessness, unemployment and mental health issues among the county’s most vulnerable.
The survey REBUILD 850 cited was undertaken by Sachs Media Group after the June 1 beginning of the 2019 hurricane season and aimed to gauge awareness of Michael and its lingering impacts.
One thousand Floridians were surveyed; 1 in 4 think homelessness and unemployment are no longer issues following Michael and 3 in 4 believe that mental health, food insecurity and the wildfire threat are no longer concerns.
And, little surprise considering the way it soaks up most everything, attention, money, political power, in Florida, South Florida residents were easily the coldest toward the Panhandle; nearly half of respondents were unaware a hurricane had hit the Panhandle and fewer knew the severity of the storm.
Despite Michael topping Andrew in some of the measurements by which hurricanes are categorized.
No wonder some north of Orlando ponder secession from time to time.
“These Panhandle residents need the support of our entire state,” said Allen Bense, former Speaker of the Florida House and co-chair of REBUILD 850 along with another former Speaker, Will Weatherford, and former Congresswoman Gwen Graham.
“These communities are suffering. We’re all Floridians and we need to come together.”
REBUILD 850 was launched the month after Michael to advocate for hurricane victims. The organization seeks donations from private citizens and companies to assist with the rebuilding efforts.
But, more and more as we reach the nine-month anniversary of Michael, the more it seems we, the residents of Gulf County, are largely alone in this rebuilding thing.
On the other hand, we are taught as children in Sunday School that the Lord helps those who help themselves.
And, Lord, there is help needed.