A center to help people in low-income neighborhoods prepare for and recover from hurricanes launched in north Miami-Dade on Saturday.
Organizers say the "community emergency operations center" builds off of Hurricane Irma last year, when community groups from across Florida mobilized to collect donations, host cookouts and provide legal support for more than 23,000 people.
"I want people to starting making this a part of their daily conversations," said Valencia Gunder, founder of the non-profit Make the Homeless Smile and a lead organizer of the emergency operations centers. "If you stay prepared, then you don’t have to get prepared."
The center, in a warehouse at 670 Northwest 113th Street near Barry University, is the largest of eight community emergency operations hubs in Miami-Dade. After a storm, it will provide water, nonperishable food, legal aid, generators, health care and ice to neighborhoods in Miami-Dade and Broward.
It's currently funded by donations to the Miami Foundation's Hurricane Relief Fund. But Miami-Dade resilience officer Jim Murley told WLRN Saturday that he would like to see county commissioners vote to provide funding for the community emergency operations network.
"They may decide to act on it now that it’s up and running," he said.
Organizers say any and all funding is welcome. Hattie Willis, executive director of the non-profit Communities United, which works with senior citizens, said the centers are not intended to replace government help after a hurricane. Rather, she said, they're an additional resource at a time when local, state and federal resources are stretched thin.
"What we’re preparing for is our Katrina," she said. "Who’s going to save you is you. People helping people, neighbors helping neighbors."
Organizers are looking for more volunteers and donations to stock up ahead of potential storms this season.