The following guest column by Phillip P. Lanham appeared in the Saturday, September 16, 2023 edition of SRQ Daily:
One year of resiliency. One year of rebuilding and recovery. One year stronger, together.
Gulf Coast Community Foundation’s (Gulf Coast’s) Hurricane Ian Recovery Initiative has supported over 200 grants to our strong nonprofit partners paving the way in recovery efforts. Together with philanthropic families, we have provided $3.5 million in immediate relief to area nonprofits devastated by the storm. With a focus on health and human services needs in southern Sarasota County including hard-hit Venice, North Port, Englewood, Charlotte County, Lee County, and DeSoto County, we were able to provide help to our region just days after the storm’s impacts were realized. Our team worked around the clock with donors and nonprofit partners to fulfill our purpose as a community foundation – to improve the lives of the people we serve.
It’s hard to believe that in 12 days, on September 28, one year will have passed since the Gulf Coast region was struck by Hurricane Ian, one of the most powerful storms ever recorded in the U.S. I was working at the Greater Cincinnati Foundation at the time, and I made sure to send out a giving alert to fundholders to encourage them to support Ian relief efforts. I can remember watching the news from Cincinnati, seeing the stories of heroes – individuals in our own community – lifting one another up after a disaster. These were miraculous, heroic efforts that strengthened my faith in humanity. Little did I know at the time that months later I would be leading the helm at Gulf Coast Community Foundation where I am now able to share our Hurricane Ian recovery impact and the stories of these heroes.
The beauty of philanthropy was demonstrated by Gulf Coast’s donors who came together to support the greatest needs of our nonprofit partners. Paul and Sharon Steinwachs, philanthropic partners of Gulf Coast, were moved by this initiative. Paul shared, “I’m humbled again by what you are doing and what occurred out there. It puts so many things in perspective in life.” Sharon added, “It makes us appreciate that we do have an organization such as Gulf Coast to help have a positive impact so quickly. We didn’t know where the need was greatest and how to make our donations go the furthest, but Gulf Coast did that for us. Thank you for all your efforts.”
Our Board of Directors approved a funding commitment of $1 million over three years to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota and DeSoto Counties to rebuild the Gene Matthews Club in North Port that was destroyed by Hurricane Ian. Prior to the storm, the Club provided over 450 children and teens with award-winning programs that empower them to get good grades, become leaders, practice healthy habits, and create plans for success after high school. We heard their call for help, and we answered. Gene Matthews, who the club was named after in 1997, was a respected Gulf Coast Board member from 1997 – 2003. We were sad to hear of his recent passing and we are grateful for all his public service and years of dedication to our community.
We provided $50,000 to All Faiths Food Bank to provide food and water to south Sarasota County and Charlotte County to support hunger relief efforts. All Faiths Food Bank shared with us that community support and collaboration were critical in reaching those impacted by Ian and providing the financial resources to cover the costs of fuel, staff overtime, and lots of food and safe drinking water. Immediately following the hurricane, All Faiths Food Bank provided: 377,900 meals, 220,000 snacks, 159,100 pounds of produce, and 420,300 bottles of water. In the 30 days following the storm, they distributed over 500,000 pounds of food at 27 pop-up distribution sites throughout their service area. Additional food resources were purchased and shared with Harry Chapin Food Bank and several of their partner agencies within Charlotte County. Additionally, 49,600 meals were provided to neighbors in need in Charlotte County.
For many people, Hurricane Idalia reawakened the memories of Hurricane Ian and the importance of coming together as a community. Our thoughts are with the areas north of us, especially in the Big Bend region. We have directly reached out to our fellow community foundations in the Big Bend area to offer our support. Click here to find ways you can help those affected by Hurricane Idalia.
These are just a few of the many heroic stories we have heard at Gulf Coast on our Hurricane Ian recovery impact. As we approach the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Ian, I know we will hold our families a little closer and value our community resources that much more. For we are stronger, together.
Phillip P. Lanham is President and CEO of Gulf Coast Community Foundation.