When Hurricane Ian pummeled Southwest Florida, Justin Poppa couldn’t sit by and do nothing.
His brother, who lives in Naples, lost his home. His Big Storm Brewing taproom in Cape Coral avoided major damage, but its employees suffered through the storm.
Poppa braved the traffic and damage to travel to the area three times and offer help as he could. Then he and his partners started collecting donations of water and other supplies to bring to residents and first responders.
“It’s very daunting,” Poppa said of the initiative, noting his area of expertise is not charitable contributions amid emergency response. “We’re trying to do everything we can to do it right.”
That’s the best way to deal with the desire to be generous after a major catastrophe, said Rachel Nelson, a representative of the American Red Cross of Central Florida.
One needs to look no further than social media to see the generosity bursting from the areas that escaped the brunt of the massive hurricane, which initially had the Tampa Bay region in its crosshairs. Churches, political campaigns and a host of other groups and individuals called for contributions of cleaning supplies, food and other items to deliver to the hit communities.
If people want to go this route, Nelson suggested they have a clear understanding of who will be receiving the items and how they will be distributed to the people in need. Having direct contact with a trusted group that has stated needs is one way to feel confident that the materials will get to their intended target.
Otherwise, the Red Cross suggests financial contributions. That will help avoid the unintended consequence of well-meant donations piling up, unused.
“We encourage people not to rush out and buy supplies,” she said. “We always recommend that someone make a financial donation to the organization of their choice that is participating in the relief effort. It is the quickest and easiest way to get help to people who need it.”
Once things settle down, shelters, emergency responders and others will have a better picture of what people need. One area might have several young families and need diapers and baby food, for instance, while another might have senior citizens with different requirements.
“There are many weeks ahead to contribute,” Nelson said. “This is going to be a long haul.”
Emergency managers endorsed this approach.
“It’s never a bad time to help your neighbor,” Pasco County emergency management director Andy Fossa said via email. “If you’re looking to donate supplies please reach out to your local Red Cross organization to get more information on how you can help those in need.”
Poppa said he was keenly aware of the intricacies involved. He said he’s looking to partner with a nonprofit group to help with fundraising and other aspects of the donation drive.
“We want to make sure all the funds are going back to the community,” he said.
The desire to help is clear, Poppa added, noting that patrons of Big Storm’s other locations have come out with items to give, and people out of state have called wanting to contribute financially. The company intends to donate totes of water, and take a food truck to the area, to give its workers something to do while also supporting the area.
Several breweries around Florida also are in the planning stages of creating a collaboration beer, with a portion of the proceeds going toward hurricane relief, he said.
“We feel a sense of responsibility that we just need to help our community,” Poppa said. “Everything we can do, we will.”
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Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Ian coverage
FEMA: Floridians hurt by Ian can now apply for FEMA assistance. Here’s how.
THE STORM HAS PASSED: Now what? Safety tips for returning home.
POST-STORM QUESTIONS: After Hurricane Ian, how to get help with fallen trees, food, damaged shelter.
WEATHER EFFECTS: Hurricane Ian was supposed to slam Tampa Bay head on. What happened?
WHAT TO DO IF HURRICANE DAMAGES YOUR HOME: Stay calm, then call your insurance company.
MORE STORM COVERAGE: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane.