by John V. Gallant
“When I was a boy, and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” – Mr. Rogers
This has been one of my favorite quotes, for as long as I can remember.
There is another one, coined recently, by someone who has proven himself an absolute rock star during this disaster. And as short and simple as the message is, these two words spoken in very dark times, were exactly what we needed to hear. These two words should epitomize how we govern ourselves, and our actions, in the coming months.
These were words spoken by Chuck Lindsey, the City Manager of Marathon, on a grainy facebook video I watched while making my way back to the keys. I had a lot of time to think about what he may have meant, in between the moments I spent thinking about whether I still had a home to come back to, and what condition I might find it in.
Obviously there is the immediate, “be kind” to the people you encounter in your immediate vicinity. The people you come in contact with while we all try to recover. Be proud to stand in line and wait patiently. Be proud that you took only what you needed, allowing others access to what they needed. Be proud that you shared what you could with others. Be proud of your community and the people who make it great.
We are bruised, but not broken, and we need each other more than ever.
As we move forward with our recovery from Irma, you should realize the power you have. Each and every dollar bill that changes hands within Monroe County could really be considered a vote for the success of a business in our community, and you are in total control.
Right now, where you spend your money, and who you choose to do business with, defines what The Florida Keys becomes. At no time in recent history have you had more control over the fate of our community. What type of community do you want to build? Who do you want to see succeed? Be kind.
You don’t have to advertise that you are out doing good. You will know it. Others will see it. A good job, or good deed, should be acknowledged. If you do feel the need to take to the old facebook machine, take the time to get photographs of other people doing good in your hood. Share other people’s good deeds, share their good stories, promote the people who helped. Be kind.
I’ve beaten around the bush about this before, but in light of what has happened, I’m going to come right out and say it. Support the people who support members of this community.
You know where I went to order three sets of sliding glass doors? Forest Tek. Why? Because Allen, Bruce, and ALL of their staff were not only here until the very last minute providing us supplies. They had the experience, and desire to help. Because of that, they had semi-loads of plywood on hand, and more being delivered hourly. This allowed us to board up homes that would have gone unprotected. I personally know of 8 homes that were protected because we were able to purchase what we needed when we needed it. I believe that the only reason my home is habitable, is because of their efforts. Their experience helped them preorder the right emergency supplies we would need, and has meant we now have access to the items needed for recovery.
I left the keys for this hurricane, which is uncharacteristic for me. Many other people who don’t usually leave for hurricanes left as well. My immediate reasoning was that I am in the charge of a four-year-old who was expecting me to make good decisions, and those decisions could have had life-altering consequences.
I know people are upset about reentry being difficult, or upset at how the curfew impacts their ability to do what they want. As someone who went through Andrew, and was part of the immediate recovery effort in Coral Gables and Homestead, I can tell you that these barriers to entry and travel are essential, just, and beneficial. Staying up all night because there is a free-for-all going on outside is much less enjoyable. At 17 I literally rode “shotgun” from place to place as we tried to support Rite-Aid Stores, so that they could provide prescription medicines, water, and food to people in need. I have seen that sort of chaos, and it was unpleasant.
Do not let this affect your judgement the next time. Evacuate. If you are sitting in the upper keys right now, thinking that you should have stayed, remember that a couple degree change in direction off of Cuba would have meant Big Pine and Marathon were sending help up to us.
As of now, there are fourteen lives that have been lost as a result of Hurricane Irma. I have no idea of how many homes have been left destroyed or uninhabitable. We have a tourist based economy with people who are going to be without work for a long period of time. We need each other now more than ever.
We need to support each other now more than ever as well. I fear the people most impacted will be the employees of local businesses. When you use Brett Ekblom from Native Construction, or Chris Trentine from CBT, or any other local businesses, you aren’t just helping them. You are helping them support their employees. Their success means continued employment for their people, and all of the above is what makes up our community.
Local restaurants, like Mangrove Mike’s, who spent their own time, talent, and treasure need our patronage. Mike spent his own money feeding first responders well before any other restaurant was open. Not only did he figure out how to feed first responders immediately, but as he was doing so, he was working to coordinate relief efforts for those who needed it.
These are the people I will be “voting” for with my dollars, because these are the people I want to succeed in my community, because I want them to grow and thrive. We are faced with the opportunity to make things better. I hope we all rise to the challenge, because I love this community, and I want to see it not only succeed, but thrive.
I can’t begin to name all of the people who showed up to clear roads as the storm was moving on, or the people at the FKEC who work tirelessly to get us power, or the law enforcement officers/EMT’s/Firemen who came from across the state, or the National Guard.. I saw Ken Tefoya, Kris Bastron, Chris Trentine, Anna Richards, Don Horton, Jill Miranda Baker, and so many more out cleaning up or distributing supplies. There is no way to compile a complete list of people who deserve our infinite love and gratitude, and I apologize profusely for those I didn’t recognize. There were so many, and I am only allotted a few pages, but you all are what makes this place special.
If you are looking for help, or looking to help, I have built a website for The Upper Keys Rotary Club, and will be working to put people and resources together. The site address is https://keysrotary.club
In the end it comes down to this. If there is one message you should take from what I have said here, it is the message I am passing on from Chuck Lindsey, please ‘be kind’.
We have a long way to go, and it’s going to take all of us to get there.