It’s not too good to be true. The American Red Cross has more Hurricane Irma money for residents of the Florida Keys. There were five teams canvassing Big Pine Key and Marathon neighborhoods this week. The organization will make another push in early December to canvass more neighborhoods and sign up households for help or, in some cases, more help.
The American Red Cross is working from a database of residents who were on the substantially damaged lists complied by FEMA, Monroe County, City of Marathon and the American Red Cross damage assessment team. Some may have already received assistance and qualify for more; others may be first-time clients.
“We are using sophisticated software to identify the people we can help. We can literally walk down the street and see — house by house — which homes are eligible and then we knock on the door,” said Eric Corliss, executive director of the Hurricane Irma Recovery Program. “But we are also following the threads — if we are approached on the street, or directed to another home.”
Stephanie Kaple, executive director of the Florida Keys Outreach Coalition, said sometimes the most difficult part of the process is convincing the household to accept help.
“I hope this Red Cross money can be the piece that helps folks close the gap. Some people say, ‘I’m not that bad. I’m only one-third damaged’ or ‘I donate to the Red Cross; I don’t accept money from them.’ And I tell them, well you paid it in, you need to get it back out now,” Kaple said.
Some families will qualify for the basic unmet needs. Others may also qualify for additional funds to address complex unmet recovery needs. It’s important to note that the qualifications are damage-based, not income-based. Corliss said.
“Some people have spent their life savings to make Hurricane Irma repairs, and they are going underwater even though they make a good salary,” said Elmira Leto, of Keys Strong.
Corliss said the American Red Cross has identified 2,100 families in the Keys who could qualify for help. But there may be more.
Where to begin? Well, when the American Red Cross knocks, open the door. If they don’t, contact your case manager — through the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church (UMCOR), or Compass 82. Then the case manager reaches out directly to the American Red Cross to see if the household is eligible. The roundabout communication is an effort to avoid overwhelming the disaster teams and, in turn, frustrating the public.
In addition, the American Red Cross and other non-profits and faith-based organizations will be holding community events in the coming weeks. The public is encouraged to attend and make contact with that and other agencies. (See sidebar.)
As the nation responds to the recent devastating wildfires in California, the Red Cross Hurricane Irma Recovery program continues to work with the Monroe County Long Term Recovery group and other organizations to provide assistance to families who continue to need assistance 14 months after hurricane Irma made landfall.
“We’re not very loud,” Corliss said, “and we have that ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps mentality in the Florida Keys.’ But we need to keep telling our stories so that we can get the help.”
American Red Cross representatives will be present at an event on Sunday, Nov. 18 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the First Haitian Evangelical Baptist Church on Big Coppitt Key, just east of Bobalu’s Southern Café.