After devastating Cuba, Hurricane Ian took aim at Western Florida becoming one of the most destructive storms of all time. Ian was responsible for the deaths of over 150 people as it made its way across the Florida peninsula. Landfall occurred near Ft. Myers Beach and Sanibel Island on the afternoon of September 28, 2022 with devastating effects. The storm carried winds of over 150 mph and a storm surge above 12 feet, causing incredible flooding, leveling homes and trapping victims in unimaginable ruins. Many Floridians chose to stay in their homes, despite evacuation orders for over 2.5 million residents.
Hurricane Ian was the first major hurricane to hit the continental United States since the formation of Cozy Crates earlier in the year. This was exactly the type of scenario that Cozy Crates was created to respond to and an opportunity for us to help the survivors of this disaster. On the morning of October 2nd, we began the 2500 mile roundtrip journey to Florida with a trailer in tow, full of Cozy Crates boxes. Planning logistics ahead of time was especially tricky considering the hurricane’s path was unknown. We had been preparing for months, but we knew that we would have to be adaptable when we got there. It was also very important to us that we did not take away any resources from the disaster area. We wanted to be completely self-sufficient by bringing food, water, and shelter with us.
As we got close to the disaster zone, we were shocked by the amount of traffic on the southern bound I-75 Interstate. A continuous stream of electrical trucks, construction equipment, building supplies, and other supply trailers spent hours inching along to their destinations. Our first stop was at a shelter that had been set up inside the Hertz hockey arena. There was a large presence of first responders, with their emergency lights flashing, managing the inflow and outflow of traffic from the facility. We were welcomed by the staff and sent to an area where donations were being accepted. Sleeping cots, clothing, blankets, and food supplies were being unloaded along with loads of clothing and household items that were being sorted by volunteers. We introduced ourselves and explained Cozy Crates’ mission and what we had brought. The Red Cross volunteers were very helpful and let us know that they were expecting a group of children in the shelter that evening and would like boxes for them.
That afternoon, we visited three more sites that were all providing help to survivors. At each stop, we were welcomed and acknowledged for the effort that we had made on such a long trip. But it was our last stop at a local high school that we were finally able to see and realize the impact of Cozy Crates. This shelter, also run by the Red Cross, housed hundreds of victims including families with their young babies, elderly people in retirement, dozens of loved pets and many singles that had lost everything, all facing an unknown future. This shelter had approximately 30 children staying there, all sleeping on cots with dazed faces, surrounded by strangers.
The first family we met had just arrived at the shelter with nine children. Although they had each other, they had lost almost everything else. They seemed cautious of us at first, but quickly warmed up when we brought immediate smiles to their children’s faces. A second family that we met included a single mom with her two children, one of which was special needs. The pattern repeated of pure happiness when the kids opened their individualized boxes. A third family was yet another single mother with her four boys. We saw many tears, heard emotional stories and shared lots of hugs. The brightness that was created when the children opened the boxes was just incredible. One mom cried talking about how much support she was receiving from volunteers like us. Another mother cried telling us that she hadn’t seen her boys smile in almost a week.
One of the biggest learnings that afternoon was not only could we make a difference to the children, but the parents were positively impacted as well. These parents were rightly concerned about their children and our visit made that a little easier. The children gave the adults a needed boost of hope and happiness. Since this visit, we have learned that one of the biggest factors in children healing from traumatic experiences is the role that their caregiver plays in their lives, meaning that the healthier the parents are, the more the children will heal.
The second learning came from a group of mental health volunteers that we met. We spoke at length about helping children and how our Cozy Crates could be used in community outreach efforts both inside and outside of the shelter. But over and over we heard it and felt it, THIS MATTERS. This organization, this idea, this community outreach. It’s incredibly important. It brings people together. It comforts those who feel hopeless. It provides some relief from the seriousness of the situation. And it gives hope of what is to come.
To make a long story short, WE MADE OUR GOAL. We assembled and delivered 100 Cozy Crates to children affected by Hurricane Ian. We drove four very long days, two there and two back pulling a trailer, we visited shelters, interacted with affected children and their families, met the amazing Red Cross representatives and delivered every single one of our 100 boxes.
We feel increasingly inspired to continue our efforts and learn more about how to help children. We also feel confident in the connections we made with other organizations to grow our impact and help affected children to be resilient after these storms.