NEW TAMPA — Like most of the city, New Tampa and northern Tampa were spared widespread destruction when Hurricane Irma rolled through Florida last September.
Still, people living on the edge of poverty here faced a hard time after the rain and wind passed. Power outages left households sweltering, groceries spoiled, wages were lost.
"If you are a working family or a fixed-income household, a Category 1 can feel like a Category 3," said Tampa City Councilman Luis Viera, who represents New Tampa and north Tampa.
"There are roadblocks affluent families can make it through that others cannot. Last year was a wake-up call."
To prepare his district for this hurricane season and a worst-case scenario, Viera is forming a network of local organizations, churches and businesses willing to help those when hurricanes hit.
"These stakeholders do a lot on their own," Viera said. "Together, we can do more."
Among those already enlisted are the New Tampa Rotary Club, Crossover Church, Trinity Cafe 2, the University Area Community Development Corporation and Tampainnovation.com.
"We provided food for over 150 people after Irma," Crossover Church’s Pastor Chris Harris said. "With the right partnerships, we could have doubled that."
Here is how Viera envisions the network operating:
The New Tampa Rotary Club and its 63 members are a volunteer base. They can collect goods and provide assistance if, for example, a supply site like Crossover Church is overwhelmed.
"I call the New Tampa Rotary Club the Navy Seals of rotaries," Viera said.
Supply sites will stay in contact so each knows what the other may need.
"If we have access to certain things that another does not, there needs to be coordination, so we can get that to them," Harris said. "We need to maximize the number of people we help."
The network is seeking a transportation component for home deliveries and evacuating older people.
The groups also will work together to get word out to everyone in the area that there is help.
"What happened last year was some people who lost electricity also lost everything in their refrigerator and freezer and didn’t have enough money to replace that food," said Karen Frashier, the Rotary’s immediate past president. "People on limited budgets need help."
Councilman Viera said he spoke with single parents earning $10 an hour who suffered a one-two punch — they lost a week’s worth of groceries in the Irma-related power outage and their place of employment shut down a few days to weather the storm.
"They lost hundreds of dollars in income that they could not get back," Viera said. "Irma was a Category 1. Imagine what a Category 2 or 3 could do to them."
Those in the new network feel the effects, too. Crossover Church estimates that the supplies it normally distributes ballooned to $15,000 after Irma.
"That is a real blow to a church," Viera said. "These are not mega-churches."
This is where Viera hopes the non-profit Tampainnovation.com can step in.
Also known as Tampa’s !p, the nonprofit collection of businesses and organzations was created to help northern Tampa reach its economic potential. Viera hopes it can identify funding sources.
"This is about being your brother’s keeper," he said. "That is what a good and decent society does."
Contact Paul Guzzo at [email protected] Follow @PGuzzoTimes.