Department of Florida Disaster Preparedness Chairman Bill Hoppner helps load pallets of water onto a forklift at department headquarters in Orlando on Thursday, September 14, 2017. Photo by Clay Lomneth/The American Legion

Time and safety of the essence in Irma relief efforts

“Cleaning supplies?”

“How about toothbrushes and deodorant?”

The questions rang out as American Legion Department of Florida staffers and other volunteers brought donated supplies into a meeting room at department headquarters Thursday.

The supplies — pallets of bottled water, hygiene products and paper supplies, canned food and cleaning products, and on and on — had come to Orlando from Indianapolis, where Legion family members and others had quickly filled a tractor trailer with donations to help those impacted by Hurricane Irma.

The truck left Indianapolis on Wednesday and pulled into the Department of Florida’s parking lot late Thursday morning, some 1,000 miles later. The department quickly unloaded the haul and set about inventorying the supplies. The pallets of water filled the building’s entry corridor while the other donations filled some 20 tables in the meeting room.

Meanwhile, Department Commander Steve Shuga, Department Disaster Preparedness Chairman Bill Hoppner and others were reaching out to Florida’s various districts to see which areas needed supplies, what those supplies were and how soon a safe, secure destination would be available in those areas.

There are the flooded areas in and around Jacksonville, where Irma’s storm surge sent the St. Johns River to historic flood levels. There’s a report of tornado damage from earlier in the week in Homosassa on the state’s west coast.

But the brunt of Irma’s destruction has been borne by the Keys, and when the department is told they can reach Homestead, just to the north of the Keys, it’s decided that will be Friday’s main destination. Other areas will get supplies as well, as the department knows it’s important to get the donations out to those who need it — not only because of the need, but because more trucks filled with donations are expected by next week.

“Right now we need to get the basics taken care of; we need to keep people hydrated and nourished,” Shuga said.

National Emergency Fund

When natural disasters like tornadoes, floods or wildfires strike, The American Legion’s National Emergency Fund swiftly delivers needed money to veterans in their communities.