Fit For Hope Visits Southport, Witnesses Devastation


The below is an account written by Fit For Hope Ambassador and fundraising athlete Jake Vermillion, who visited Southport—a small community north of Panama City that was devastated by Hurricane Michael—to clear debris and help distribute hot meals to local residents.

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The devastation wrought by Hurricane Michael is overwhelming, confusing, and yet incredibly motivating.

Seeing the carnage dealt to small communities like Southport forces you to confront the absolute necessity for all of us to help one another. And with the magnitude of the storm’s reach, the need to help is going to linger for months, if not years.

Visiting Southport today made it abundantly clear that if we are committed to truly helping those affected by Michael, we have a long road ahead of us. Thankfully, as endurance athletes, we are keenly aware of the importance of tackling our goals with patience, perseverance, and discipline.

Rebuilding the lives of residents in towns like Southport is going to require exactly that: patience, perseverance, and discipline.


So, what did we do while in Southport, and why?

Today, I joined a team of volunteers from Redeemer 30A Church to help clear debris—mostly trees—out of residents’ driveways and yards and off their roofs before helping to distribute hot meals.

Over the course of about 6 hours, I was personally able to help clear significant amounts of debris from three properties—two of which were dated, single-wide trailers in desperate need of repairs.

This is important because our goal is to use the Fit For Hope Hurricane Relief Fund to restore trailers and houses like these to safe living environments. But before we can do that, we have to remove debris that’s impeding our team, insurance adjusters, and government response agencies (like FEMA) from assessing the livability of these homes.

Once the debris has been cleared and comprehensive assessments can be made of the homes and trailers still standing in Southport, our team can work in tandem with other nonprofits, churches, insurance companies, and the government to identify families who are in need of assistance to make repairs needed to continue safely living in their place of residence.

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How long will the relief effort take?

Having now seen the devastation firsthand, it could be months before debris has been cleared and assessments made to determine what our next steps will be, and how many people we can assist financially.

In the meantime, we’re committed to taking teams of volunteers on weekends to Southport to help with the debris-removal process, and to working with our friends in the community to continue raising the financial support needed to ensure safe living for those affected long-term.

How can folks help?

First and foremost, you can donate to our relief fund. While money isn’t everything, the reality is that it’s going to take significant financial support to ensure even one family has access to safe, permanent housing post-Michael.

Secondly, we would love for you sign-up to volunteer in Southport. Through the end of November, the work will continue to consist largely of removing debris—so, the work is hot, hard, and not without risk.

Women have made as much of impact helping removing debris as men, so don’t shy away on the basis of gender. Just take the nature of the work into consideration and know that if you’re not comfortable volunteering now, there will be much more varied volunteer work to undertake in the near future.