As Hurricane Dorian makes it way toward Florida, a network of community volunteers and nonprofits are teaming up to respond to the needs of seniors on fixed incomes and families in poorer communities.
They dub themselves “Community Emergency Operation Centers,” CEOCs, with two distribution centers—one in Liberty City and Fort Lauderdale.
After hurricanes, it can take days before government aid show up. For example, many of South Florida’s low-income communities were spared structural damage during hurricane Irma, but after days of no electricity and no cash in what became a cash-only system, vulnerable communities suffered.
The idea of the CEOCs is to be a grassroots response network that can reach people quicker and before the larger agencies set up.
Valencia Gunder, a community and climate activist from Liberty City, is spearheading the effort. On a recent afternoon, she coordinated volunteers as the first donated supplies made their way to the Liberty City distribution center.
“Resiliency is expensive and not everybody has an additional four hundred dollars, five hundred dollars sitting around to prepare their homes and their family and their children for hurricanes,” she said.
South Florida's economy is driven by low-wage hourly jobs in the service industry which can make preparing for a hurricane a substantial financial hardship. An estimated 300,000 families in Miami-Dade are food insecure, in Broward that number is 270,000, according to Feeding South Florida.
These centers hope to stand in the gap for families that plan to ride out the storm with very little.
The CEOCs will operate as distribution centers for pre-appointed neighborhood captains. Over the past year, Gunder identified people in different neighborhoods with deep roots in their community to serve as captains.
The network includes Homestead, Florida City, Hialeah, Overtown, Fort Lauderdale and several other communities. Once Hurricane Dorian passes, the neighborhood captains will assess the needs in their community and communicate with the distribution centers to get what they need.
The centers have bbq grills that can be checked out to cook, toiletries, water and nonperishable food items.
Trenise Bryant, a volunteer and neighborhood captain for Liberty City, said she wanted to make sure neighborhoods like hers were not ignored.
“In the black and brown communities we are the ones that get stuff last and don’t get the resources in the beginning,” she said.
The group will be collecting donations through Sunday and will start their distribution phase once the storm safely passes.
Meet some of the volunteers:
"We noticed that the response with city and the county was the 48 hour wait period before they actually respond. And we know that a lot of people do not have enough food supplies to last them that long. So of course the center is trying to fill that gap.
We usually focus on food deserts. They usually don't have access to public transportation. They are usually communities that are of high poverty. These individuals usually need more assistance ."
"A lot of people in Miami are living paycheck to paycheck.
If you have the hurricane and say your work closes down for a few days you're not working those few days. You don't have that sick time or leave, some people don't have those benefits. They're not getting paid those days and so they're out of work. The hurricane is already taking money out of their pocket as well.
Buying shutters at Home Depot, buying a generator that's a costly expense. I wanted to come out and help and help just prep."
"I'm a naturally born Floridian. I was raised in lower income communities. A lot of us went to food banks and everybody, we pulled together in a communal way for sure, but everybody was without in a real way. You're waiting on the next check so that you can pay for everything or for you to just pay for your rent.
It's just literally the resources, which is what the CEOC's about in this neighborhood. People just don't have it."
Community Emergency Operation Centers
Dr. Dorothy Bendross Mindingall Social- Economic Institute
5129 NW 24th Ave Miami, Fl
Old Dillard Museum
1009 NW 4 st Fort Lauderdale, Fl