Just as momentum was gaining steam in the recovery from one disaster, the Gulf Citizens Long-Term Recovery Committee is forced to react to another.
The coronavirus pandemic has dried up a key component to the committee’s work, volunteer labor, and also forced partners to exit Gulf County as funding is further stretched.
“We have had some challenges,” said Loretta Costin, board chair for the Long-Term Recovery Committee. “I am also happy to say we are making good progress in helping our community.”
The committee established a helpline for emotional and spiritual support, working on referrals in collaboration with the Florida Department of Health in Gulf County.
A warehouse to hold construction equipment and materials is up on the former Arizona Chemical site and has been offered to county health officials in the event a surge in local coronavirus cases taxed the hospital and health department.
The committee has also completed three of six proposed roofing projects and expended nearly half of the unduplicated volunteer hours required under grant funding.
The lack of volunteer labor is the steepest hill.
“The biggest challenge has been volunteers to do the work,” said Nancy Stuart, executive director of the Long-Term Recovery Committee. “Volunteers for big projects have dried up.
“We have money for materials and equipment, but we have no volunteers.”
In addition, a proposal to construct three homes with modular structures fell through when the proposed funding of $300,000 dried up as the pandemic swept the globe.
“It was a very big disappointment,” Stuart said.
The Committee will seek alternative funding sources for the plan which was all but shovel-ready.
“You can’t get a better price and all the (preliminary) work was done,” said Dr. Pat Hardman, who chairs the housing subcommittee.
Stuart said she is in communication with Mennonite Disaster Services which had teams tackling construction projects in Marianna before the coronavirus outbreak.
Stuart said the team leader has agreed to visit Gulf County once stay-at-home orders are lifted and teams return to Marianna.
The goal would be bringing construction teams into the county next year.
“Our conversation went very well,” Stuart said.
Stuart added that she is in discussions about the three planned roofing projects delayed by the pandemic and loss of volunteers.
Hardman has recommended two roofing contractors who would agree to perform the jobs at near cost.
St. Vincent de Paul, which has been in the area for months, would secure materials through a nationwide donation from Lowe’s, and the work could be performed without volunteers, Stuart said.
Another challenge to the committee was created when UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) was forced to leave Gulf County due to resources needed for the COVID-19 pandemic.
UMCOR had been in the lead for case management for unmet needs since shortly after Hurricane Michael.
“It’s a blow to our recovery, but we have other partners we are working with to make sure nobody falls through the cracks,” Costin said.
St. Vincent de Paul and other stakeholders will assume some of the case management load left by UMCOR.