BUFFALO, N.Y. — Once the potentially devastating storm system from Hurricane Ian passes through the Tampa area, the very difficult effort to restore and rebuild begins for communities and the people living there.
That's the task for dedicated volunteers, some from Western New York, who will respond with the 8 Days of Hope faith-based organization.
Eight Days of Hope Founder and President Steve Tybor puts it this way.
"When you serve people and you love people you might leave exhausted. But your heart's gonna be full - that's gonna happen in Florida starting next weekend."
That's the expectation and guiding principle of the Eight Days of Hope charity organization which has disaster response supplies like cleaning wipes and diapers stockpiled in their Buffalo warehouse. They also have equipment like chainsaws, tarps, and generators set to go for a planned response within 48 to 72 hours to any storm-ravaged neighborhoods around Tampa.
Their mission started in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina ruined parts of New Orleans. And now as many as 150 volunteers from the Buffalo area are prepared for restoration from high winds and storm surge flooding as they offer help and hope.
"Never did we realize we'd become a national ministry. And here we are 17 years later as we responded to 73 disasters. And now have done about $65 million dollars of work with 50,000 awesome volunteers. So we travel on a minute's notice when there's a hurricane or disaster. We've been to Hurricane Harvey, Katrina again all these disasters. This year Hurricane Ida is in New Orleans and we get ready for Hurricane Ian."
"When we get there immediately they're trying to salvage anything that's remaining. So if they've had a tree fall on their house they wanna protect the rest of the house that maybe didn't get damaged. If their house flooded you got to get everything wet out and that's what our volunteers do. We gut out homes. Remove the furniture, the rugs, and the cabinets so we can dry them out. And we have a half million dollars of commercial dehumidifiers and fans," Tybor says.
Then other volunteers will be part of the rebuilding process in the coming weeks or months. Tybor totaled up past such efforts.
"8,500 families have now seen the volunteers show up - people they never met before. Strangers help them rebuild their house for free."
The charity's equipment is organized in large storage trailers. Overall at least 30 vehicles, some also from Mississippi and Iowa, will be heading to Florida.
That includes four trailers set up for hot showers in private bathroom stalls. Tybor explains that they provide this creature comfort in an area without functioning showers in damaged homes.
"People will be coming to our shower trailers for months. Even volunteers who come in or businesses have come in like the power company. When we were in New Orleans after Hurricane Ida the power company had no place to take showers. They started using our showers. You know that's our goal. We're gonna bring in laundry trailers now. Think about this your house floods - people are helping you get back to normal but all the laundromats are gone. They flooded as well."
They are also getting a new one million dollar mass feeding unit with refrigeration and meal preparation.
As Tybor sums it up "We're just a conduit. We're nothing special. We provide food and lodging to the volunteers that show up - our volunteers come from 50 states and 11 countries. 50,000 of them always on their own dime and they just want to give back."
They are also accepting donations and seeking new volunteers for this important life-changing work.