Lions Club members are active in their communities, so Deb Yager Engstrom, 1st Vice District Partner, and David Skillin, Disaster Relief Chair & past District Governor, knew the residents of Everglades City and its surrounding communities needed help after the devastation of Hurricane Irma. After reaching out to various businesses and not finding the help they wanted, a manager at a local Lowes store recommended that Deb contact the American Red Cross.
“Oh, my gosh, the Red Cross is such a large organization,” Engstrom thought. “Are they going to think I’m crazy, being from the Lions Club and trying to partner with them?” After making a couple of phone calls, she connected with Gina Troncone, a Red Cross Community Engagement Partnerships responder during Hurricane Irma.
“We were extremely satisfied working with Gina and partnering with the Red Cross," said Engstrom. "I let her know we needed supplies to help people in Everglades City and she asked what we needed, how much we needed and where it needed to be delivered. She made it so easy and very efficient. They came to our rescue and we were thrilled.”
Once they received the pallets of items—including gloves, boots, shovels, bags, water and even large totes with lids—they started the adventure of delivering the supplies to residents. “FEMA was there when we arrived and they helped to unload the items. They were so excited. We even had some Lions bring homemade cookies and the guys went crazy for those. It was quite an interesting time.”
“Due to Hurricane Irma’s 8-foot storm surge, many of the homes had an average of 4 feet of water at the height of storm," said Skillin. "Because of the partnership with the Red Cross … a lot of people have been helped and been able to clean out homes that were devastated by this hurricane. The average home had a minimum of 1-2” of mud after the surge went down. We had Lions actually in these homes, helping to clean them out and get them back in order so they go about their lives. The Red Cross helped us in such a big way, which helped us complete our mission.”
“When we drove into Everglades City, and seeing everything these families lost just piled on the side of the roads," Skillin continued, sharing his saddest moment, "I think I truly didn’t understand the devastation until we drove into town and, at that moment, all the work we had been doing suddenly hit a new level of urgency. It told me this is where we needed to be.”
“I’ve lived in Florida for 25 years and have never seen anything this devastating," Skillin concluded. "The Lions Club was there to help out and the Red Cross was there to help us. As an organization, we have a motto which is two words: 'We serve,' and I’m happy to say the Red Cross and Lions served together.”
The partnership between the Red Cross and Lions Club members resulted in an estimated 8,000 people receiving the supplies they needed to begin cleaning up and rebuilding their lives after Hurricane Irma.