September letter of the month
The winning letter addressed hurricane shelter preparations.
Improve organization at shelters
My wife and I volunteered at a hurricane shelter in Hillsborough County starting the evening of Friday, Sept. 8, and into the late morning of Saturday, when the shelter reached capacity. Our zone had not been evacuated and we were in a position to help, so we did what we could. I can only inadequately express how impressed I was with the people there to help. The principal and her staff did all they could to convert their school into a makeshift home for 500 or so people. Volunteers gave their time, energy, love and caring to help people find some security. And to the Tampa Police Department who eventually showed up, took charge and brought order to the shelter, you have my eternal gratitude.
From a more critical lens, we were disappointed. My wife was emailed late Friday and asked to volunteer due to her connection to USF. When she arrived, the night before the shelter was supposed to open, it was chaotic. People were waiting to get in and some had already been let in 12 hours before the shelter officially opened. Some had special needs and had to be redirected to another shelter. Others had come with nothing and found that the shelter had very little to offer other than a roof, walls and food for a few days. No cots. No blankets. No snacks. And most importantly, no clear order.
The principal and her staff did what they could, but the volunteers were put in charge of registering people who showed up. They had virtually no training but were suddenly told they were responsible for an entire shelter. After my wife described the situation, I showed up the next morning hoping to help. I saw firsthand the lack of organization. There were five or six volunteers along with the school staff. We were told to register people as they arrived. We had them fill out two forms, neither of which we had read before we started handing them out.
As I helped, I learned. I asked questions. I was told — and I don't know how true this is — that the Red Cross was going to send at least one person to staff each shelter, someone with training and experience. Those trained Red Cross employees never showed. Why? I don't know.
I was also told the shelter was not the responsibility of the Red Cross but of Hillsborough County. Again, I believe that is true, but I don't know. If it is, I am wondering why the county didn't have trained volunteers in place.
I understand that hurricanes are chaotic. I don't mean to take anything away from the efforts of all those who helped. I write this because I was surprised at the lack of organization. If the Red Cross isn't in a position to help, government officials should be. Without straying too deeply into politics, I think the government has to take responsibility for emergency preparedness and not rely on a charitable organization that may or may not show up.
We're all still reeling from Irma, and we were spared what could have been a much worse storm. But this is also the time to reflect on what went right and what went wrong. Having shelters was right. Not having trained people to staff the shelters was wrong.
Ryan Cragun, Tampa
Las Vegas massacre
Act on gun violence now
Now is the time. Pulse was the time. Sandy Hook was the time. Columbine was the time. Unfortunately we heard, "We can't politicize these deaths. We can't go into these conversations emotionally." Let me just call BS on that.
It's past time to confront the fact we have not been made safer by more guns, more access to increasing firepower, fewer restrictions on the types of weapons owned, who can carry them, where they can be carried, the type of ammo that can be loaded into them, and how much ammo can be loaded into a single clip. Instead, this has made us hostages to any armed maniac on any given day. When will it be your turn to confront mindless gun violence? While on a picnic in the park? In your church? At work? Maybe at a concert? At your children's school?
What can you do about this issue? First, write your representative in the House and demand a "no" vote on the so-called Sportsmen Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act that was approved by the House Natural Resources Committee last week. This bill would remove regulations on permitting, silencers and other commonsense laws still on the books. This bill is so bad that it has been quietly withdrawn after mass shootings twice. But bad ideas return, particularly when backed by NRA bribery. When the next Trump tweet storm has distracted our attention, it will be back. But it is not inevitable if your representatives hear from you.
Second, write your representative in the House and demand support for a select committee on curbing gun violence.
Finally, realize that it has been time — for decades — to stand up to an industry group masquerading as an organization concerned about your constitutional rights. It is not. It is concerned with selling you more guns, more ammunition, and can only do this by stoking your fears. Say no to their fear-mongering. Support commonsense firearm regulation.
Jerry Nepon-Sixt, Tampa
Howard Frankland plan adds toll lane, bike trail | Oct. 3
No place for bicycles
The last time I looked, the Howard Frankland Bridge was a part of the interstate system. Aren't pedestrians and bicycles prohibited from using the interstates?
That being the case, why have a bike/pedestrian lane?
Kenneth R. Gilder, St. Petersburg
Fans' anger burns | Oct. 2
Outrage seems selective
I saw the pictures and article about the fans' reaction to protesters kneeling during the national anthem. I understand their anger.
What I don't understand is that when neo-Nazis, the KKK and white supremacists marched, chanting "Jews will not replace us," we didn't see them protesting that. Kneeling is said to dishonor the flag and our military, but neo-Nazis marching chanting slogans get a pass. It's an embarrassment. That's bumper-sticker patriotism.
Stephan Fugleberg, Tampa