By Carrie Hunter
A large group of people wait outside of Innovative Charities in Jackson County an hour before the food pantry opens. Rules for hurricane relief supplies and how to register are posted on the door.
Robert Arnold, the director of Innovative Charities, drives up in a truck pulling a large trailer. Several volunteers meet him and immediately start sorting food into bins. Four people set up a pop-up tent, and two kids from a local church volunteer setting up tables and setting out boxes of veggies.
The crowd increases in the time that the volunteers set up supplies. Most people in the line are elderly, but there are also a few young women with small children waiting. Many of these people experienced severe damage to their homes during the storm. One woman approaches us and says the vegetables and chicken she had frozen during the summer that normally would get her through the winter were destroyed during the storm. Many people in this region grow and preserve their own food and share with their neighbors, but power loss caused their frozen stores to perish.
Jackson County is one of the poorest areas of Florida. The people in line are white, black and Hispanic. Everyone needs help. Here at Innovative Charities, poverty is colorblind. One boy says, “Sometimes we have like 75 people. Sometimes we have like over 200.”
Robert is a good-natured man with a kind smile. He wears a t-shirt from a religious organization, but isn’t preachy. He says that since the storm they have significantly more people that need help. He is able to get enough food donations but is running low on essentials like beds, gasoline and building supplies.
He says they really could use a load of lumber and roofing materials. If he could request a type of donation, it would be gift cards to the local Walmart so they could go and get the supplies need when they run low. If he could get a flat of twin beds donated, he could place them quickly. Right now, the number one issue in the area is housing—many of the people he helps are living in tents or in homes that are damaged and many that are condemned. They need FEMA trailers, but many people have not received them.
One of the common aftermaths of the storm is more grandmothers are taking care of their grandchildren while their grown children go elsewhere to look for work. These grandparents are on fixed incomes and now have more mouths to feed.
Robert says the churches and local groups have been working hard to try to help since the storm happened, but many of these organizations are running low on resources. “The government’s doing their usual governmental thing of bickering and fighting, and the news media has forgotten about us,” he says.
He adds, “We’re going to rebuild. It’s going to take a long time.”