ST. PETERSBURG -The Childs Park Recreation Center hosted one of several community events around the city that provided assistance to residents who experienced electrical outages, property damage and food loss during and after Hurricane Irma’s destructive visit to the Bay area.
“My concern was that there were so many people new to Pinellas County and that the folks wouldn’t respond to the call to evacuate,” said Pinellas County Commissioner Kenneth Welch at the Childs Park “We Got You” community relief and support event on Sept. 15.
Volunteer Paulita Folb coordinated activities in one of the center’s rooms where volunteers collected relief goods.
“Today, a lot of people came out and donated a ton of stuff for people who were still being affected by Hurricane Irma,” said Folb. “Yes, the community donated and the community volunteered to distribute. Most of the donations are from just regular citizens from Childs Park.”
While the boxed goods were being handed out in one room, fresh meals were being served in another. The meals were prepared by Childs Park residents and volunteers from around the city.
Volunteer Wanda Stewart from the Old Southeast neighborhood some five miles east of Childs Park took a break from serving fresh fruit cups to talk about her experience with the storm.
“I was hesitant as to what to do,” said Stewart. “Friends said, ‘We’ll pay for you to fly out,’ and family members said ‘we’ll pay for you to get to Orlando and get a hotel room.’ But something kept telling me no.”
Since Stewart has a child with medical needs, she rode the storm out at John Hopkins Middle School, which was a designated special needs shelter. Although there were a few problems and people had to move out of the gym and into classrooms, her stay was pleasant and accommodating.
“It was much more a matter of hunkering down in my house and making sure that I was okay, my family was okay and my cats were okay,” said Shannon Love, one of the volunteers at the Childs Park community relief site. “We had a tree that hit the garage, but luckily there was no damage.”
Gallerie 909 owner Carla Bristol grasped the reality of what was to come, but she, like many residents, decided to stay put and not panic.
“My goal was to make sure I’m prepared; have gas in the car, have food, have battery-powered light sources, and then to secure myself in a safe location-not necessarily to leave town but to keep watching the news as it played out,” said Bristol.
Irma’s fury was no comparison to the Tarpon Springs hurricane that touched down as a category three in the Tampa Bay area October 25, 1921, leaving behind eight dead and an estimated $10 million in damage (equivalent to $840 million in 2016).
According to local folklore, Tocobaga Indian mounds have provided a spiritual shield from catastrophic storms like the ones that struck the area in the 1920s.
Bristol shared her belief that she’s “one of those fools who believe that we are on some sort of sacred grounds here” because she has not seen a direct hit in the 21 years that she has lived in the area.
After Irma passed and done its share of damage, Bristol got together with citizens such as Childs Park Neighborhood Association President Bro. John Muhammad, the leadership at Childs Park Recreation Center and local community service organizations and agreed on a place where residents in the area could come to get food, water and other life-sustaining essentials as they recover from the storm.
This Friday from 6-7:30 p.m. at the Childs Park Recreation Center, 4301 13th Ave. S, Feeding Tampa Bay will be handing out food and supplies to residents in need. For more information, visit feedingtampabay.org/irma-relief.