Relief efforts continue in the Florida panhandle after October’s Hurricane Michael, with members of the American Legion Family doing what they can to help.
“You can see that they’re trying to get some form of normality back, but it’s going to take years,” said Stephen Shuga, past commander of the Department of Florida.
Shuga, department disaster preparedness chairman Bill Hoppner, department chaplain Barry Roberts and others have been making regular trips to the area devastated by Hurricane Michael over the past month-plus, delivering supplies and support to Legion members and other veterans impacted by the storm.
“Each time we go in, we make sure we go in with supplies,” Shuga said. Initially those supplies included food, water and hygiene products; as winter looms, coats have been added to the list.
“We still have people living out in tents,” Shuga said.
While the Legion isn’t designed to build houses, Shuga said building supplies such as tools, roofing, drywall and paint will be necessary as the recovery continues.
There are health issues to contend with as well. Shuga was told by a resident of the Panama City area that there was “black mold growing all over the place.”
Some Legion posts have been able to reopen to help their communities, while others were destroyed by the Category 4 storm. But Shuga said even some of those destroyed, such as Post 375 in Southport, Fla., “they are not letting the destruction of their post home prevent them from helping veterans and the community, they have been diligently trying to do what they can.”
The extensive damage to Legion posts in the area serves as a harsh reminder for other posts to check their insurance coverage now, Shuga said, before they have to find the money to cover rebuilding later.
For Shuga, a past post and district commander in the area, seeing the destruction firsthand has been challenging.
“One of the other guys had to take the vehicle because I was having a rough time,” he said.
But the people of the panhandle “are going to rebuild, they’re resilient. It’s just going to take awhile. …
“We know this is going to be a long haul. Getting the supplies is one thing, transporting them over there is another. We’re all being tested,” he added.
The Department of Florida is still accepting monetary donations for the Hurricane Michael relief efforts. Those donations can be made online at https://www.floridalegion.org/news-events/hurricane-relief/.
Donations can also be made to the Legion’s National Emergency Fund (NEF) at www.legion.org/emergency. The NEF is available for American Legion and Sons of The American Legion members who have been impacted by the hurricane as well as Legion posts. The NEF provides up to $3,000 for Legion and SAL members with an active membership who have been displaced due to damages to their primary residence, and up to $10,000 for posts that have been damaged by a natural disaster and whose programs and activities within the community are impacted. To apply for an NEF grant, please visit www.legion.org/emergency.