Recovering Clay to raise funds in wake of Irma

Wesley LeBlanc
Posted 11/15/17

MIDDLEBURG – Carole Gardner and her family moved into a house on the banks of Black Creek 16 years ago. Not once has her house ever flooded.

As Hurricane Irma began to make landfall in …

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Recovering Clay to raise funds in wake of Irma

Posted

MIDDLEBURG – Carole Gardner and her family moved into a house on the banks of Black Creek 16 years ago. Not once has her house ever flooded.

As Hurricane Irma began to make landfall in mid-September, Gardner and her family left with the clothes on their backs, the family dog and a generator. When they returned to where their house was located, they weren’t met with the sight of their home, but rather, complete devastation.

“On 9/11, when Irma hit, our lives were changed forever,” Gardner said.

Once the worst of Irma had passed, Gardner found herself on a boat, slowly making her way down the creek joined by her family and neighbors.

“As we kept going, I kept thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, this is terrible,’” Gardner said.

And then she saw it.

“As we turned around a corner, I could see the first part of my house – a mother-in-law suite – and the water was up to the roof,” Gardner said. “As we continued closer to my house, I realized our cars were gone and water had risen to five-and-a-half feet inside.”

“Everything we had was destroyed,” she continued.

Two days later, when she was able to return to the house by foot, her husband bashed open the front door to unveil a sight that still brings tears to Gardner’s eyes.

“Everything in my house, my pictures, my furniture, all of it, was underwater,” Gardner said. “My whole life was floating in front of me.”

Despite having flood insurance and despite reaching out to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Gardner wasn’t receiving any help.

“We’ve jumped through so many hoops and still, nothing,” Gardner said.

Gardner isn’t alone. Clay County resident Maury Kopman has faced the same obstacles with little to no avail.

“There’s just so much red tape that you don’t realize you have to cut through to get help,” Kopman said.

Fortunately for Gardner and Kopman, Recovering Clay, a new nonprofit organization and extension of Mercy Support Services, has arrived to the scene.

Led by Joelle Marquis, in collaboration with area churches and Sen. Rob Bradley(R-Fleming Island) and Rep. Travis Cummings(R-Orange Park), Recovering Clay aims to help those in dire need, like Gardner, who despite having reached out to all avenues, have received virtually no help.

The idea for Recovering Clay began when Marquis realized that traditional methods of hurricane recovery assistance were failing residents in the county.

“There are people who just aren’t getting the help they need,” Marquis said.

That’s when she enlisted the help of Sen. Bradley and Rep. Cummings.

Both graduates of high schools in the area – Bradley graduated from Clay High School and Cummings graduated from Orange Park High School – the two couldn’t help but get involved when approached by Marquis.

“Being here all our lives, we know the people who are going through this terrible aftermath of Irma,” Cummings said. “You start realizing that there’s some gaps and lapses in government help and I knew that Senator Bradley and I could raise some dollars to help fill those gaps.”

At a Recovering Clay kickoff event held in Middleburg Nov. 9, Cummings announced that he and Bradley had already raised $100,000 for Recovering Clay.

But how will that money be allocated?

Wanting to guarantee the money is used to its fullest potential, Marquis and Recovering Clay have enlisted the help of experts who will ensure the money goes right where it needs to.

By utilizing experts who represent the different sectors of post-hurricane restoration, Recovering Clay can more accurately target those who are in need of help.

“If someone needs help with structural damage, we have someone who is an expert in assessing structural damage,” Marquis said. “The needs define the target and the experts are involved to help with that.”

According to one inventory by Clay County Emergency Management, roughly 450 homes in the county are either completely destroyed having sustained substantial damage from flooding and winds.

Recovering Clay doesn’t plan to slow down anytime soon and is committed to raising $500,000 by Valentine’s Day with an objective of providing shelter for every family displaced by Irma and responding to the immediate and unresolved needs of those affected.

“Things will only continue to get better as more money is raised and more families are helped,” Marquis said. “Now, we need to get the word out there and let people know that help is on its way.”

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