In an effort to inform the community of the exceptional efforts made by local organizations in the Hurricane Ian response/recovery process, the Long-Term Recovery Group has been meeting with organization leaders to listen to their stories. Recently, we reached out to St. Vincent de Paulin Punta Gorda to hear about the struggles they faced from Ian and how they are continuing their support for our community's recovery.
Much like everyone else in the community, preparation was the top priority for St. Vincent de Paul when they were informed that Hurricane Ian was going to impact Charlotte County. Since their buildings were hurricane rated, 13 members of St, Vincent including their President rode out the hurricane at their facilities in Punta Gorda. We asked Jerry Presseller, a member of St, Vincent de Paul, about his experience during the storm, “We made it through Charley, we can make it through this. Well, I didn’t realize at the time that I made that decision that this was going to be ten hours of Charley.” As soon as Ian passed, Presseller joined the dozens of others at St, Vincent de Paul to help in the immediate response. Presseller is expected to be elected President by the board in October later this year.
Unfortunately, their Punta Gorda facilities had faired about as well as everything else in the community. Former President Gary Moerke told us about the damages to their facilities. The storm took with it the fencing and awnings around their buildings and severely damaged both of their buildings' roofs. He also told us about the challenges of dealing with the insurance company, “personally that’s the biggest issue… It took seven and a half months to settle the checks before we had the money to do anything.” Moerke was pleased to let us know that by the time of our interview, they had just begun work on replacing their more severely damaged building’s roof.
Fortunately for the community, St. Vincent de Paul has been committed to providing anything and everything that they can do to help. In the immediate aftermath of the storm, they helped people with the necessities like food and water, but they also provided things like clothes, beds, and other household furnishings for people who had much of their belongings ruined or destroyed. Additionally, they helped people by refurbishing and fixing small things in homes that were damaged during the Hurricane. As Presseller put it, “We went around fixing anything we could that didn’t require a permit." For more vulnerable individuals, even the most minor assistance goes a long way towards helping them return to some degree of normal life and comfort.
The most common form of assistance that St, Vincent de Paul offers however is financial assistance for people who are the most in need. Under normal circumstances, their operations are very similar to what they have been doing in response to Hurricane Ian. When asked about what “normal operations” at St. Vincent de Paul looks like, Moerke laughingly replied, “Same as it is now, except we are paying out a lot more than we used to.” After the hurricane passes and people are without a job for 3 to 4 weeks, St. Vincent de Paul was stretched thin trying to help people not fall behind on their rent or have their utilities turned off. St, Vincent emphasizes that they should not be the first-place people turn to for aid and that they mostly serve people who have nowhere else to turn.
We closed off the interview with questions about our community’s future. Just like how Hurricane Charley provided a blank slate for Punta Gorda to redevelop into what we see today, Ian has provided a much larger canvas for redevelopment. The main thing that Presseller and Moerke wants to see is affordable housing. Moerke highlighted this need saying, “The hurricane pushed affordable housing into the background for a while… People can’t afford to live where they used to live anymore, and they’re coming to us and saying ‘We can’t afford this. What do we do?” They also emphasized the need for a county facility to store donated goods like food, water, and other necessities. After the Hurricane organizations like St. Vincent were flooded with donations from across the State. Like many local organizations, they did eventually distribute everything they received but they did not have the facilities to store everything effectively.
When our community is impacted by exceptionally strong hurricanes like Ian, we require an exceptionally strong response. St. Vincent de Paul is an outstanding example of our community's exceptional response to Ian. As our community slowly but surely recovers, it is important to remember that the ‘return to normal’ could not be possible without the tireless efforts of community-level organizations like St, Vincent de Paul.
About the LTRG
The Charlotte County Long-Term Recovery Groupworks to coordinate recovery services and build resiliency for individuals, families, and entities adversely impacted by Hurricane Ian in Charlotte County. Its purpose is to engage the community and create a vision while re-imagining the systems and landscape of our community. A plan will be created and published in the Fall of2023. For more information, please contact us at LTRteam@gulfcoastpartnership.org.
About St, Vincent de Paul
Come to our office at 2500 Airport Road, Punta Gorda on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday between 9:00am-12:00pm. A personal interview will help us determine the best way we can help you and your situation. If you have a financial need, please arrive no later than 11:00 am. When we are unable to provide the needed assistance, we will connect you with one of our partner agencies in Charlotte County. If your residence is in another county, we will give your information about services in your home county.