Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Help is Here for Disaster Recovery

Submitted Photo | From left: GMLTR President Brianna Ogdin, Vice-President Liz Pecora, and AnnaMarijka Tilleman, long term recovery coordinator.

Greater Marco Long Term Recovery (GMLTR) will be there to serve as a one-stop shop for assistance in the event of a natural disaster in Collier County.

GMLTR is a coalition of local non-profit and faith-based charitable and community service groups, as well as state and national organizations. Should the need arise the new organization will enable them to work together, sharing information and resources to help affected individuals, families and businesses.

The organization was formed late in 2017 to assist in identifying the unmet needs of people affected by disasters such as Hurricane Irma’s destructive visit to Southwest Florida last September.

“Our thought was to help the survivors recover from the storm,” GMLTR Vice-President Liz Pecora said of the group’s formation. “Our organizations and agencies were working separately, sometimes doing the same thing. So we wanted to pool our resources because we all know that we’re stronger together. We want to work collaboratively to assist with long-term recovery for our community.”

The organization’s coverage area encompasses Marco, Goodland, Isles of Capri, Naples and the rest of Collier County, aside from the Immokalee and Everglades City areas, which have their own long-term recovery groups.

GMLTR is working with such organizations as the Greater Marco Family YMCA, the Marco Patriots, Habitat for Humanity, the Red Cross, the Salvation Army and the United Way. Local churches, such as the Family Church of Marco Island, and their national charitable arms are also involved, examples being the United Methodist Committee on Relief, UMCOR, through Marco’s Wesley United Methodist Church and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance through Marco Presbyterian Church.

“Basically, all partners have to be able to bring something to the physical, but also metaphorical table,” said GMLTR’s long term recovery coordinator, AnnaMarijka Tilleman. “It’s called the Unmet Needs Table. That’s really what our long-term recovery group is focused on creating and building. And all partners have to bring money, manpower or materials in order to really be involved in the rebuild and recovery.”

Tilleman is a currently un-deployed volunteer agency liaison for FEMA. In the wake of Irma, she was assigned to Collier, Lee, Charlotte, Sarasota and Manatee counties to work on forming organizations such as GMLTR. It was that work that led to her being hired by GMLTR to coordinate its work.

“Something that we do in FEMA is we work with a volunteer agency liaison and their entire mission is go to into communities and try to find the key players and form a long-term recovery group,” she said. “The reason they do that is disasters start and end locally.”

Tilleman said that when a state determines it no longer needs FEMA’s help, the Federal agency pulls back and lets the state step in.

“But if it’s a statewide disaster, there’s no way that they can make sure that no-one falls through the cracks and that everyone will be taken care of,” she added. “So they really rely on those long-term recovery groups to communicate with the state and with FEMA, if they’re still in the area, to determine what the needs are and what’s happening at the local level.”

Should disaster strike, GMLTR will serve as a centralized hub for money and resources, said Pecora, who is also a co-director of the Our Daily Bread food pantry on Marco Island.

If people have unmet disaster-related needs, the organization will assist them with developing personal recovery plans, identifying their specific unmet needs and presenting cases to coalition members to be considered for assistance.

Pecora said that in her role at Our Daily Bread, she was surprised to find out that there were many people still recovering from the hurricane, months after its passage, who have no idea that help is still available.

“There are many families that have returned to normal, but there are hundreds of families that are still trying to recover,” she said. “Our emphasis now is to find the people that still need help. One goal is to let people know that we are here, but also for the people that are struggling to get back normal, it’s our desire to assist them with disaster case management or all that’s needed to return to what their life was like before the storm.”

GMLTR is funded by grants and donations, said Pecora and Tilleman and the organization is working to expand its reach to include the remainder of Collier County, excluding Immokalee and Everglades City. And individuals interested in volunteering to help during a disaster are welcomed.

“We will never turn down a volunteer,” said Tilleman, who explained that prospective volunteers will be referred to UMCOR for a background check before being placed.

“What they would do (after a disaster) is really based on skill-set,” she added. “Right now, it would be good to have a storehouse of volunteers who can be called upon should a disaster strike.”

To get involved, become a partner, donate or receive assistance, visit the GMLTR Facebook page or email People seeking assistance are invited to visit the Salvation Army’s Disaster Assistance Center, located at 3420 Tamiami Trail East or call 239-775-0143.

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