GREEN COVE SPRINGS – After two years of devastating storms, Clay County officials are looking to start the conversation early this year with two community meetings scheduled next week, just a …
GREEN COVE SPRINGS – After two years of devastating storms, Clay County officials are looking to start the conversation early this year with two community meetings scheduled next week, just a little more than a month into this year’s hurricane season.
While some residents fear another storm, others are still trying to recover from the flood-induced destruction that came in the wake of Hurricane Irma last September. An estimated 300 homes are still in a state of disrepair as homeowners seek options for getting back to normality.
The first of the two meetings will be held at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, July 10 at the Clay County Sheriff’s Office headquarters in Green Cove Springs. The meeting is hosted by the county’s united church community and will focus on emergency preparedness as well as providing some information on the advent of school resource officers in Clay County’s junior high schools in addition to the ones who have already been working in the high schools.
The church community mobilized immediately following Irma, with an outpouring of volunteers countywide who worked to clean out homes, move families into temporary housing and provide meals and supplies to those displaced by the storm. The relief effort was organized by Clay Safety Net’s Andre Van Heerden, who hopes to bring even more churches into the fold for future disaster relief.
The clergy meeting will focus on identifying churches throughout the community that will join the effort to provide facilities and food to volunteers, specifically those from out of state, who need shelter while working on storm recovery.
After Hurricane Irma, Van Heerden estimates that the community response was about 30 percent volunteering their time. Part of that was coordinated through the clergy, while others were just out on their own volunteering. Van Heerden wants to up that number to 60-80 percent should another disaster hit the county, and have all of the effort coordinated through a centralized location to provide the most efficient use of volunteer resources.
“Our biggest problem is communication and coordination,” he said. “I want to challenge the community to come together through one central body.”
Van Heerden said that churches who want to stay involved in the community and be part of the non-emergency Clay Safety Net should start by sending a representative to attend their monthly meetings at 8:30 a.m. on the third Thursday at the Salvation Army headquarters on County Road 220. Van Heerden said that once churches are all together and know each other, it makes it that much easier to mobilize should something happen that requires a great volunteer effort.
“We’re really trying to rally the churches together,” said John Ward Clay County Emergency Management director. “After a storm the long-term recovery effort comes from churches and volunteers.”
Two days after the meeting at the sheriff’s office, Clay County Emergency Management is hosting its own meeting specifically geared toward those people who are still dealing with problems created by Irma. Ward and representatives from state and federal relief agencies will be on hand to provide information to people regarding home elevation or acquisitions. This meeting will be held at 6 p.m. on Thursday, July 12 in the Middleburg High School cafeteria.
“We have a lot of residents still working on their homes and waiting on assistance,” Ward said. “At this meeting we’re hoping to find out the exact number of residents who have needs, and we’ll have representatives from agencies who can provide them with information on what to do next.”