These past few years have brought significant challenges—the pandemic, with its ensuing, ongoing recovery, and Hurricane Ian testing the resolve of our communities. But the challenges have also brought forward many opportunities for people to step up and help their neighbors in need. In response, so many caring people have acted without hesitation, showcasing the very best of the human spirit, from volunteerism to financial gifts to caring check-in calls with those who have been impacted.
Like many of you, I witnessed the devastation of Ian, first in shocking images on TV news and, once the storm had passed, in the streets each day, passing the fallen trees and rising floodwaters in its aftermath during my errands and commute to work. It’s still hard to comprehend the wreckage, and the storm’s impact, both physical and emotional, remains a moving target. While those impacts are still being calculated, we know it is our responsibility to respond both immediately, and with longer-term recovery efforts.
The Suncoast Disaster Recovery Fund was the product of a conversation between Debra Jacobs, President/CEO of The Patterson Foundation, and me. With The Patterson Foundation’s initial generous gift of $500,000 and matching funds up to $750,000, givers were inspired! We hoped it might become a $2 million fund to help address long-term recovery for our communities, supporting a macro-level approach that would help deliver strategic remedies to challenges that may not be top of mind now, but will reveal themselves in time. Unbelievably, the fund has gained the attention of individuals, families and institutions, both local and nationwide, who have far surpassed our initial hopes. The astonishing generosity has helped us raise $3.5 million to date! To say I’m grateful is an understatement—the outpouring of support will provide the Community Foundation with resources, along with convening our nonprofit and government partners, to investigate and implement lasting systemic solutions. We’re confident this will aid our community’s recovery, so we can rebound from Ian and weather the next storm more successfully.
In the immediate aftermath of that disaster, though, there has also been tremendous acute need. Our neighbors’ lives have been upended by damage to their property, or the suspension of their jobs, causing unanticipated expenses and an interruption in paychecks. We are so fortunate to have had the time-tested, trusted safety net of Season of Sharing in place to help those facing potential crises. I am thankful for the nearly 23 years of Season of Sharing and all those who have paid their good fortune forward to ensure that their neighbors can survive emergency setbacks with dignity.
Even before Ian, hundreds of families in our region were just one paycheck away from facing homelessness, one mishap away from making heart-wrenching decisions about whether to purchase food or pay the electric bill. Ian exacerbated the potential for individuals to face that type of acute crisis, especially our neighbors in south Sarasota, Charlotte, and DeSoto counties whose lives were turned upside down in just a few days.
Season of Sharing has answered the call for help since its inception, delivering flexible, emergency financial support for more than 41,000 households. Thinking about that—the lifeline that has allowed so many people to regain stability—fills me with gratitude. As I’ve been reviewing the impact of Season of Sharing, I discovered that nearly 55,000 individual gifts have been made to the vital safety net over the years. That is deeply inspiring, and I appreciate each person who has made that commitment to our community.
The upcoming holiday season is a time to come together with those we love, reflect on all we have, and really think about all that makes us grateful. I am grateful to live in a community where commitment to wellbeing, taking care of neighbors, and helping those in need are values deeply woven into the culture.
What are you thankful for?