Sept. 10 is a date that will always be remembered in the Keys, and this year marks three long years since Hurricane Irma devastated portions of our chain of islands. Evidence of Irma’s wrath remains and these have been three years of struggling to rebuild our community. While it hasn’t been easy, most residents have now recovered or are close to doing so.
Almost half of Monroe County’s year-round residents struggle to make ends meet, living paycheck to paycheck, just one disaster away from household instability. Irma was this disaster for so many families. United Way and the community have worked hard to help make the dream of recovery, which may have seemed impossible three years ago, become reality for these Keys residents. From gift cards and cleaning supplies in the immediate aftermath to helping with financial assistance and repairing childcare facilities, United Way of Collier and the Keys has led community partners supporting Keys residents throughout this disaster.
Immediately after the storm, United Way made the commitment that 100% of funds raised would directly benefit the Keys community through individual assistance or through our network of vetted, established nonprofit partners. United Way knew that recovery would begin with initial relief, continue with recovery, and, finally, transition to rebuilding. Hurricane funds provided assistance such as short-term housing, case management for residents, rental or mortgage assistance, mental health services, free legal aid, rebuilding damaged facilities and homes, and replacing destroyed items at child care centers and health care facilities.
June 2020 saw the final disbursement of the $1.7 million raised for Hurricane Irma Relief funds in the Keys, all of which has now been distributed in the community. This helped complete projects at nonprofit partners that were still unfinished and included awnings for five facilities serving families, patio and generator repairs at a transitional housing shelter, replacing a destroyed ice maker at a childcare center, installing storage at four local schools for donated clothes and basic necessities for students in crisis, and more. During the past year, $60,000 in United Way financial assistance also aided 219 Keys residents still struggling with purchasing furniture and appliances, rental deposits, minor home repairs and other expenses needed to finish their recovery. For a brief look at United Way’s work with Irma recovery in the Keys, see KeysUnitedWay.org/UnitedWayIrmaVideo
United Way board and staff are grateful to everyone around the world and right here in the Keys community who assisted with recovery from Hurricane Irma by donating, volunteering with clean up, or helping friends and neighbors rebuild. Hurricane Irma showed how we #LiveUnited, coming together in times of crisis; together, we are resilient and strong.
UWCK’s mission to fight for hard-working families here in the Keys is only possible through supporters, partners, and volunteers. With this support, United Way remains committed to serving the Keys community — not just during times of crisis like Hurricane Irma recovery efforts or now during COVID-19, but also each and every day. That is the United Way.
— Leah Stockton is the Keys Area president for United Way of Collier and the Keys. The two organizations merged in April 2020.