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Residents help each other in aftermath of Irma

Posted on Wednesday, September 20, 2017 at 1:00 am

By Charlie Reed
For the News-Gazette
Editor’s Note: As Osceola County recovers from Hurricane Irma, the News-Gazette will continue writing about the ongoing relief efforts and provide critical updates from local, state and federal sources. We want to help you, our readers, get back to normal as soon as possible.
Osceola County residents are still cleaning up from Hurricane

News-Gazette Photo/Martin Maddock
A bobcat dumps a pile of limbs and palm fronds into an awaiting truck in downtown Kissimmee as hurricane cleanup continued on Tuesday.

Irma though many have gotten back to their routines for the most part.
But there are hundreds of senior citizens, people with special needs and others who still need help in the storm’s aftermath – from cleaning up debris and flooded homes to applying for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Association.
Residents have been generously donating to local nonprofits, churches and other organizations, which in turn, have supplied food, water, baby formula, diapers and other essentials to two special needs shelters.
The shelters housed some 300 people before, during and after the storm. By Tuesday morning, the one at the Osceola County Council on Aging had closed.
Many have been able to return to Good Samaritan Village, a 55-plus community that flooded during the storm and remained underwater for nearly a week. Others went back to the assisted living facilities and nursing homes from which they were evacuated before Irma. Some were moved to the shelter at OHP, where 160 still remained as of Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Osceola REDI – a nonprofit disaster relief organization connected to Osceola County – is coordinating volunteers for post-storm relief efforts and to help these vulnerable residents get back to their homes.
Osceola REDI, short for Recovery from Emergency Disaster Initiative, functions as part of the Emergency Operations Center, and was established in 2015.
“We can accept donations, it gives us the opportunity to raise funds and keep them in our own community. Sometimes funds go into major organizations and you have no idea where they go,” said Gene Terrico, with Osceola REDI.
The nonprofit works not only with the county but with community partners, including the Council on Aging and the Community Hope Center to help during natural and manmade disasters, such as the December 2016 Kissimmee hotel fire that displaced hundreds.
Terrico said the group is focused on helping people who, for various reasons, can’t get assistance from state or federal sources.
These are case-by-case situations involving people in precarious situations.
“Our goal is to make sure we can find and cure those situations where people fall through cracks,” he said. “The key is that everyone works within their lane to provide the expertise they have.”
Meanwhile, the sheer amount of donations and volunteers who already have signed up with Osceola REDI, Community Hope Center, the Osceola County Council on Aging and churches throughout Osceola County has heartened many. Social media has been key to bringing together those in need with volunteers.
Just ask Wild Belisle, director of Osceola Meals on Wheels at the Council on Aging. She reached out on Facebook for help and supplies for seniors at the special needs shelters and also shared touching stories of giving.
She posted photos of everything – from Osceola County Sheriff’s deputies dancing with octogenarians at the special needs shelters to supply trucks arriving from Alabama to the Osceola County Association of Realtors bringing by blankets to a group of nurses who came down from Kentucky to help.
Belisle’s social media efforts helped connect those who wanted to do something to those who needed something. They also highlighted an outpouring that continues to flood Osceola County with support and hope.
“We were so overwhelmed with all this love,” Belisle said.