Area responds to Hurricane Dorian victims

As the death toll grows and residents of the Bahamas continue to grapple with the devastation caused by Hurricane Dorian — local groups are stepping up to find ways to help those who are suffering.

Dorian made landfall on Sept. 1 as a Category 5 Hurricane, flattening homes and causing massive flooding, according to national news reports.

Jessica Cooper, who teaches in the Culinary Arts Academy at Land O’ Lakes High School, has been coordinating a supply drive to support victims of Hurricane Dorian. Her husband, LeRone, who grew up there, planned to deliver the supplies to family members and others suffering in the aftermath of the Category 5 hurricane. (B.C. Manion)

The official death toll stood at 50, with an estimated 2,500 still missing as of last week, according to national news reports. Officials expect the death count to rise, as search-and-rescue crews dig through the ruins of Grand Bahama and Abaco islands.

While recovery work continues, groups are rallying to do what they can here.

At Land O’ Lakes High School, Chef Jessica Cooper — who teaches in the school’s Academy of Culinary Arts — put out the word that she was collecting supplies that would be delivered by her husband, LeRone, who grew up in Freeport, the main city on Grand Bahama.

Some of the supplies will be provided to LeRone’s family members who still live there, and the rest will be distributed in an open forum he will be having at an office building, Cooper said.

She let people know that she would be collecting supplies at the school from Sept. 9 to Sept. 11 and, by the second day, so many items had been donated, she had to rent a mini-van so she could transport the contributions to her South Tampa home.

The family also rented a Penske truck, so her husband could make the trip to South Florida, to load the supplies on a ship, which he would take along with the supplies to Freeport, and he lined up two trucks to help him transport the goods once he got there.

People who live in the Bahamas are no strangers to hurricanes, but the massive storms usually blow through the area in a matter of hours, Cooper said. This time, the hurricane stayed for 24 hours — something that’s never happened before.

Initially, family members went to Cooper’s sister-in-law’s house because she lived in the middle of the island, which had not flooded before. But that area flooded, so the family retreated to her niece’s apartment building.

This is just a fraction of the food, cleaning supplies and other items collected at Land O’ Lakes High School to help Bahamians who are struggling in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian.

“My sister-in-law lost her home,” Cooper said, and her brother-in-law’s home was damaged.

As of last week, there was still no water or power, and none of their family members had been able to return to work.

Cooper said the outpouring of help for her family and other Bahamians, has been humbling.

“To be completely honest, I am so overwhelmed with the generosity of everyone,” Cooper said, on Sept. 10. “The faculty here, the students who are helping, then the parents who started posting on social media to their communities.”

She appreciates help from other sources, too: “My godmother came over the night before last. I had another cousin come over last night. To organize and  pack.

“I didn’t expect any of this, to be this big. But, I am so grateful for it,” Cooper said, noting some people still want to help, and her husband is planning a second trip in October.

The supply drive at Land O’ Lakes High is just one of several efforts happening across The Laker/Lutz News coverage area.

At Sunlake High School, in Land O’ Lakes, the Junior States of America Club collected donations through Sept. 13. And, Wiregrass Ranch High School, in Wesley Chapel, collected donations through Sept. 12.

Saint Leo University, in St. Leo, has nearly 150 Bahamian students, with 64 members in the class of 2023, according to a news release.

The college had a candlelight vigil on Sept. 5 and a prayer service at Saint Leo Abbey, prior to the student Mass.

Saint Leo University has been responding to support its Bahamian students who lost family members, or whose family members lost their homes, businesses, personal possessions or suffered other losses from Hurricane Dorian. One show of support was a candlelight vigil at the university’s campus in St. Leo. (Courtesy of Eric Mutschler/Saint Leo University)

Some Saint Leo students have lost family members. And, some students’ families have lost businesses, employment, homes, cars and all of their personal possessions.

The college is providing individual counseling and check-ins with their Bahamian students, the release says.

The university also has placed donation bins around campus to collect supplies to transport to the Bahamas. Items they are collecting include: nonperishable food items, snacks, flashlights, batteries, diapers, baby wipes, water containers, disposable razors, lotion, work gloves, garbage bags, soap, deodorant and portable chargers.

The donations bins will remain on campus until further notice. Also, Lake Myrtle Elementary, in Land O’ Lakes, and Bishop McLaughlin Catholic High School, in Spring Hill, are hosting partnership drives, so the university’s donations will be able to help more people and pets in the Bahamas, according to Jen Shaw, vice president of student affairs for the university.

The Diocese of St. Petersburg also is raising money to help people affected by Hurricane Dorian.

Hillsborough County Public Schools and the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office partnered in their efforts to collect hurricane relief supplies.

Meanwhile, at Goodwill Industries-Suncoast stores, shoppers are being invited to round up their purchases to help raise money for Hurricane Dorian relief. The organization planned to launch the campaign on Sept. 5 and run it through Sept. 19, with the goal of raising $25,000 to help people in the Bahamas. The organization decided to collect cash, rather than items, because of the difficulty in getting donated items to people in need, according to a news release.

Others involved in Hurricane Dorian Relief efforts include The Rotary Club of Wesley Chapel, in conjunction with Rotary District 6950 and AdventHealth Center Ice.

All of the supplies will be trucked to Miami on Sept. 30, then shipped to the Bahamas and distributed throughout the Island by Bahamian Rotarians, according to the Rotary Club of Wesley Chapel’s website.

AdventHealth Center Ice, 3173 Cypress Ridge Blvd., in Wesley Chapel, will be accepting donations from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., during the drive.

Donations also may be dropped off at the Make A Difference office, 12311 U.S. 41, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and at The Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce, 38550 Fifth Ave., in downtown Zephyrhills. The chamber is open Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Friday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Hurricane Dorian relief items
Rubber gloves
Cleaning supplies
Propane tanks
Sheets and blankets
Latex gloves
Clorox wipes
Large garbage bags
Tarps, all sizes
Portable grills, lighters
Roof paper, roofing nails
Portable cellphone chargers
Work gloves
Face masks
Cleaning rags
Sterno camp stoves
Portable cots
Feminine hygiene products
Adult diapers
Toilet paper
Paper towels
Baby wipes
Baby formula
Canned goods
Can openers
Nonperishable food
Pet food

Published September 18, 2019

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