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Newton, Edwards and Baker put FEMA at citizens’ fingertips
BY ALLEN A. BUCHANAN, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG — Filing FEMA applications for relief funds became a lot easier last Wednesday and Thursday when former Rep. Wengay Newton, former Mayor Rick Baker and businessman Bill Edwards teamed up to open a makeshift FEMA station. Volunteers were on hand to guide local residents through the application process both days of the event.
“What we’re doing here is giving people internet access to computers so they can register for FEMA relief,” said Newton.
Newton mentioned that he and his partners opened the facility on Tuesday night.
“Tuesday night we fed people and Rick Baker and I had a conversation that we needed to do more because we saw people coming in out of the dark, and they were at their worse. They had been in the dark for so long and they just wanted someone to help them.”
Over 400 people filed claims on Wednesday evening, and then were treated to a warm dinner from Heavy’s Food Truck.
“Making sure that their answers to their questions are clear, getting submitted correctly and making sure that if there’s something that requires assistance that it happens as soon as possible,” volunteer assistant Marcel Dolke said about the application process.
Baker stated that Tuesday was more of a pulse-taking session with citizens to find out how they were doing and what they needed exactly. His next step was putting a team put together.
“We got the NAACP to help with us. We got Bill Edwards who put the building into play and the computers. We got a lot of volunteers from Wengay Newton, our state representative, and some of my friends from the campaign helped to volunteer as well.”
Edwards is a well-known businessman who owns of the Rowdies, Sundial and the building that was being used to help people register for FEMA assistance.
The FEMA registration center was an excellent place to start again for Gloria Francine Maxwell from Clearwater.
“I had no idea it was going to be as frightening as it was,” said Maxwell who lived in a non-evacuation area. “I’ve been there 40 years in that home. I never expected any damage to come inside the house and to be without power for five days.”
Maxwell said the wind was the most frightening part and not knowing what to expect when you’re in the middle of the house trying to stay away from the windows. Water came in through the roof of her garage, through the front door and onto her carpeting. Her fence was also knocked down.
Newton, Baker and Edwards provided the gateway to federal assistance. Now it’s just a matter of how fast the bureaucratic wheel will turn.