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Bank of America presented a $250,000 check to the REBUILD 850 Initiative on Thursday.

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Star-studded coalition calls for continued focus on Hurricane Michael

A high-profile, bipartisan coalition is re-upping a plea to the public to chip in to relief efforts for the storm-battered Panhandle.

The effort, dubbed REBUILD 850, has funneled $400,000 to the Florida Disaster Fund. But monetary needs remain for those affected by Hurricane Michael, the nearly Category 5 cyclone that made landfall exactly three months ago. 

“We really are hurt in our world,” said former House Speaker Allan Bense who launched the initiative last November alongside Will Weatherford, another former Republican House Speaker.

Bense, speaking at a Thursday conference hosted by Sachs Media Group in Tallahassee, showed coalition members a picture of an overturned trailer. He said the photo, taken just days ago, symbolizes the conditions of the Panhandle and Big Bend counties hit hardest by the storm.

“This is four blocks from my house that I used to live in,” Bense said of the picture. “This is three months later and this is what you still see everywhere you go.”

Hurricane Michael is shaping up to be costlier than Hurricane Irma, which hit the state in 2017. State leaders have noted storm relief will constrain Florida’s budget.

REBUILD 850 wants to pick up the slack on the private side of things.

Members are looking to add to relief efforts not funded by state dollars. The influential group is imploring companies, nonprofits, associations and more to aid the affected communities.

The latest success: A $250,000 check from Bank of America Thursday.

“Our company is committed to helping Northwest Florida recover,” said David Hulse, Tallahassee market president of Bank of America, in a prepared statement. “Following a disaster like this, we all need to join together and support one another.”

Volunteer Florida, which administers the Florida Disaster Fund, has connected 10,000 volunteers with the region. They’ve logged 707,000 on the ground helping with things like “tarping, roofing, sheltering, feeding and debris removal,” according to David Mica Jr., CEO of Volunteer Florida.

Bryan Koon, a former emergency chief for the state, is the most recent addition to REBUILD 850. He’s parlaying his experience as a former Director of the Division of Emergency Management to help assess damage.

Koon said he’s “never seen anything like” the devastation in the Big Bend and Panhandle regions. To get back to “normal,” the communities will need Floridians to come together as a community.

“Government funding helps greatly,” Koon said. “But it is only part of the overall solution; it’s up to the people of Florida to pitch in by donating to REBUILD 850 or by supporting businesses and organizations in the region.”

Emblemizing the unity needed for Michael-related relief is Democrat Gwen Graham, who had sought a nomination for Governor in 2018 and represented much of the affected area during a brief stint in Congress.

Flanked by the Republican Bense during the conference, Graham warned of relief apathy.

“There’s a very real risk — three months from the storm — that too many Floridians will move on to the next subject that catches their attention,” Graham said. “It’s natural after a disaster for immediate donations to flow and then ebb as other news takes over the headlines.”

Written By

Danny McAuliffe is a Tallahassee correspondent for Florida Politics. He is a graduate of Florida State University, where he served as the editor of the FSView & Florida Flambeau. He is a lifelong Floridian and indulges in swimming, hiking, running and memes when the news cycle permits. Reach him at dmcauliffe500@gmail.com.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. AI SAVANT

    January 11, 2019 at 7:51 am

    IMO ELECTION FRAUD OPENED PANDORAS BOX AND THE LIVING PRESIDENTS’ COUP ARE CREATING ONGOING FEMA DISASTERS TO TAKE DOWN AMERICA.

    IMO wind technology to create hurricanes and tornadoes are privileged information based on military weaponry that the living presidents’ coup have access to.

    Unprecedented forest fires out west targeting celebrities’ homes and many other properties have caused mass amounts of death and destruction.

    Theories how FEMA will be abused to take down America and it’s people.

    “To some people, FEMA’s incompetence is the least of the agency’s crimes. These theorists believe that FEMA is part of a government conspiracy to take military control of the nation and enslave the American people. They claim that FEMA’s creation was unconstitutional, and that FEMA has the power to take control of entire states with a simple disaster declaration. FEMA’s budget supposedly includes billions of dollars secretly directed to unknown projects and purposes. Wilder claims include a secret bunker in Mount Weather in West Virginia, where an entire government has been set up to take control of the country. Some theorists claim that closed military bases will be used as prison camps for Americans deemed a threat to the new government.

    Are the allegations true? There’s no definitive proof, and it’s hard to imagine what this shadowy government would stand to gain from taking control of all aspects of the country and imprisoning millions of citizens. However, even the craziest conspiracy theories start with a grain of truth. Perhaps FEMA can be easily granted too much control in poorly defined situations.”

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