About 35 people gathered Sept. 26 to assess the resources available in Franklin County and beyond, to aid seafood workers affected by the failure of the oyster fishery in Apalachicola Bay.
The meeting was called by the “unmet needs” committee of the non-profit Franklin’s Promise Coalition, comprising service providers, churches, and other institutions.
Joe Taylor, director of Franklin’s Promise, said the current environmental and economic emergency is “a crisis that isn’t exactly like anything we’ve ever had before. He said that 40 percent (of workers in the county) are affected by the fisheries’ crisis that has been declared by county and governor.”
Franklins Promise is trying to “bring together everyone who’s interested in helping with this crisis and determine a long-term strategy for the situation,” said Taylor. “Something like an economic failure like the fisheries is going to have a huge ripple effect. Today we wanted to get everybody together to assess who is falling through the cracks and what resources are available.”
Jennifer and Chris Millender represented the ‘Franklin County Seafood Workers Association (FCSWA).
Taylor congratulated the seafood workers on “finding voice collectively,” noting the strong leadership of the current officers was a great help during the crisis.
“We are the front line,” said Jennifer Millender. “I’m humbled to see everybody here. Our door is always open.
Taylor introduced Carrabelle Cares Director Tamara Allen as the chair of the unmet needs committee.
“I have wanted Carrabelle to be at the table for a long time. People in Carrabelle and the east end said, ‘Those people in Apalachicola don’t care about the East End of the county,’ but I know that’s not true,” said Allen. “Recently I have become aware that there is even more need in Eastpoint than in Carrabelle. I want to reach out to Eastpoint and help.”
In addition to Carrabelle Cares, the St. George Island Civic Club, Trinity Episcopal Church, and Franklin County Health Department and Emergency Management all sent representatives.
A few attendees offered promises of tangible help.
Jim Bellasbach, from the Panama City office of the Capital Area Community Agency, said he could offer help with some heating bills but that program was funded by the federal government and there were specific rules to qualify for the aid.
Homer McMillan, pastor of Fellowship Baptist Church in Carrabelle, pledged $1,000 from the Apalachee Baptist Association and $1,000 from the Carrabelle Ministerial Council. He said he was seeking donations and hoped to assemble 1,000 new sets of bedding before cold weather sets in.
Sister Jeanne Drea, co chair of the Franklin’s Promise board with Bill Mahan, said she continues to do community outreach for St. Patrick’s Catholic Church. She said she and her support staff would be “doing agency things” like filling out forms during the crisis.
“My whole life has been taking care of this situation or that situation and making things better for people,” she said.
Taylor said America’s Second Harvest would provide extra food during the crisis. He said supplies would be available from the Franklin County Food Pantry at the former Apalachicola High School
Clarice Powell, a spokeswoman for the pantry said, under the current emergency, food is available from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily but said there could be problems securing Second Harvest food deliveries.
“There is no food to purchase from Second Harvest,” she said. “I guess they’re sending it to other emergencies. Especially meat is in short supply. Right now we’d rather have the donation of food, especially any kind of meat, than money. The supply from Second Harvest just is not there. We would love to have canned meat of any kind.”
Powell said they can also accept fresh meat or fish because they now have freezers purchased with a donation from the Knights of Columbus.
On Monday, the Food Pantry received a large donation of cat and dog food from PetSmart Charities through the efforts of Big Bend DART, which will be available those affected by the economic crisis.
Karen Martin of the Franklin County Animal Shelter said she hopes knowing food is available for pets will discourage people from abandoning or surrendering their animals.
Taylor said Bay Aid, a subsidiary of Franklin’s Promise, is offering a new initiative called “A Hand Up,” to help pay electric bills. He said displaced seafood workers who complete a screening and qualify can exchange volunteer hours for help with electric utility payments. Participants who accept money and do not complete their volunteer hours will be ineligible for more assistance.
Taylor said the program seeks to keep displaced workers involved in the community and networking.
Other agencies offered hope of long term aid for seafood workers. President Jim Kerley of Gulf Coast State College pledged to provide more career training opportunities within the county. Loretta Costin, new director of the Gulf/Franklin Campus said she met with administrators at Weems Memorial Hospital earlier in the day.
“We want to help and give hope and opportunity. We would like to bring in new types of industry and help people start their own businesses,” said Kerley.
Representatives of Gulf Coast Workforce promised they would, “identify folks who can document they made their living off the bay and were employed there long-term and try to help those people gain work experience through both internships and traditional classroom training.” They said Workforce can provide funding for books for trainees and sometimes help with car repairs, car payments and the cost of work uniforms for people transitioning to a new career.
Emergency Management Director Pam Brownell suggested Franklin’s Promise and the Food Pantry investigate grants from “Walmart Feeds America.” She also said “Best Choice” box tops on store brand IGA products can be redeemed for cash by not-for-profit agencies.
“I have just been going online searching for anything that might help,” she said this week.
Brownell told Thursday’s meeting FEMA will not reopen the Disaster Recovery Center for Tropical Storm Debby here and, will not open an office to help with the situation in the bay because it is not a declared emergency. She said it is still possible to fill out a request for FEMA aid if your home or business was destroyed in Debby.
“As individual self-employed oysterman you are going to have to come up with documentation that you are unemployed and what you would have made if you were working,” Brownell said. Those seeking aid must also demonstrate they had a reason for not applying earlier like being hospitalized or in jail when the FEMA office was open.