urricane Irma recovery efforts on and around Marco are receiving major support on a variety of fronts thanks to the Marco Patriots and the Marco Review.
The ad-hoc, all-volunteer Patriots group was initially formed to provide residents who did not evacuate with vital safety related information prior to Irma’s September 10 landfall. Immediately after the storm passed, the volunteers began traveling the island, conducting “wellness checks” for those who rode it out and had registered with Marco Patriots in advance.
It’s an effort that has seen the group’s founders, Ron Hagerman of Capt. Ron’s Awesome Everglades Adventures and Matthew Melican, along with a multitude of volunteers, shuttling much-needed donated items to the needy on Marco, Naples Manor and the Isles of Capri, and in Goodland,
Everglades City, Ochopee and Chokoloskee, which were clobbered by Irma’s winds and water.
On September 13, Stephen and Debbie Barker, coowners of The Marco Review visitor magazine started a Go- FundMe page specifically to finance what has evolved into the Patriots’ new mission: providing desperately needed assistance to those dealt Irma’s harshest blows as the storms winds, rains and storm surge ravaged the landscape.
Donations totaling $67,650 had been collected as of Sept. 25.
“Some [donations] as small as $25 and up to $2,000,” said Stephen Barker. Donations have come from all over the U.S. and overseas, including from children who set up lemonade stands and held car washes for the cause.
“We get a lot of comments on the (GoFundMe page) when people send us a donation about how much they love Marco and the great work that the Marco Patriots are doing, and that they’re delighted that every single penny is going to help needy families,” Barker added.
Exactly how the donated funds will be utilized has yet to be determined, said Melican’s sister, ErinMia Milchman, who has worked shoulder to shoulder with her brother and Hagerman in the relief effort.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen, but it’s something that’s going to help a lot of people,” she said. “100 percent of the funds donated (after Go- FundMe’s 5 percent fee) will go directly to the community and the surrounding area.”
Marco Patriots initially used the Zello application, which enables cell phones to be used as walkie-talkies, to share and receive information, and later added a Facebook page that now has 9,000 members and counting. The Facebook page has become both a clearinghouse of helpful information, as well as a way to communicate needs in the community.
Donations of such things as food, water, clean clothing, and diapers began arriving at Melican’s Marco home in the days after the storm, some from snowbirds and some from year-rounders who surrendered their own precious hurricane supplies, despite the fact open stores were few and far between. Soon, there was a torrent of donations, including large, multi-box shipments of day-to-day essentials delivered by the U.S. Post Office.
“To say it’s been a plethora is an understatement,” said Milchman. “We posted something about needing supplies and this community turned out in such enormous force that it takes my breath away. Every time I post something on our Facebook page, I get an immediate response.”
After being unpacked, cataloged and repacked by Milchman and others, the goods are then transported and dispensed, with all the work being done by volunteers.
The outreach to Everglades City and its neighbors to the south began not long after the wellness checks were completed, when Marco Patriots received a phone call about the destruction there. Hagerman checked out the area and confirmed the report and Marco residents quickly donated 20 generators for the elderly, people with serious health issues and families with small children there.
That was the start of a flow of supplies to that area that is still underway.
“FEMA was not there, the Red Cross was not there,” said Milchman. “It was our community that took care of our neighbors. We were able to help and that makes us very happy.”
Milchman said that in those early post-Irma hours, Hagerman and her brother Matt encountered a woman and her 3-month-old baby in Everglades City whose home was severely damaged, so they brought her back to Marco until a shelter could be found for them. Donations of a crib, diapers, food and other essentials were received for the mother and child as soon as their needs were posted on Zello and the Facebook page.
Hagerman and Melican gained experience in posthurricane rescue and aid efforts having volunteered their services in Houston after Hurricane Harvey struck in late August.
“We touched everyone that we could reach and provided them with an abundance of supplies and love,” Milchman said of the effort. “Sometimes all it was was a bag of ice and some love.”
She said Marco residents have stepped forward to volunteer, regardless of what damage they may have experienced at their own homes.
“They dropped everything to come help us,” said Milchman. “There are just a million stories of people and their completely selfless acts of love. This has brought not just Marco Island, but the surrounding cities, together. Nobody cares about your political party status or what your religion is or what color your skin is. We’re all just part of the human race.”
Plywood, drywall, roof tiles, paint, hammers and nails are but a few of the items she hopes will be donated to help people who may not have insurance or be short of funds to repair and rebuild their homes. And of course, there’s a need for volunteers who can help with that work. Donations from manufacturers, hardware stores and big-box retailers are welcome.
“I still, everyday, find pockets of need,” said Milchman, before adding that items for children age 2 and under, such as cribs, bottles, furniture, or anything else for a small child, are also a pressing need.
Hagerman and Melican and other Marco area residents plan to head to Puerto Rico to volunteer with the Hurricane Maria relief effort and Milchman said it’s also hoped that airline tickets will be donated, along with supplies of water purification pellets to be used there.
“There are just no supplies available on that island,” she said.
For more information about the Marco Patriots, visit their Facebook page (Marco patriots). To become a Marco Patriots volunteer, call 847-721-2818 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.