Gannett, Harris donate $30K to United Way hurricane fund

It's hard to spot the worst of Hurricane Matthew's wrath in Brevard County. An uprooted tree here, a few scattered shingles there. In the grand scheme of things, the damage was sparse.

Try telling that to the unlucky residents whose homes were impaled by trees or caught fire during the storm.

"We were, by and large, lucky. But we did have people who did have damages to their houses and their roofs," said United Way of Brevard President Rob Rains. "As we move into the longer-term recovery, we know there are going to be over 100, maybe over 200, 300 that are going to be caught in needing some help. They're not going to be able to manage it."

According to county and city estimates, 1,399 residences and 130 businesses were damaged in Brevard County by Hurricane Matthew. Dollar figures are still being prepared.

When tropical weather struck in 2004 and 2005, residents turned to FEMA for assistance. But because of Matthew's relatively low impact on the Space Coast, "that may not happen for this storm," Rains explained.

Instead, a disaster fund set up by United Way of Brevard will help those unlucky residents whose homes were in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Gannett Foundation and Harris Corp. have already contributed $15,000 each to the fund.

"We’re so grateful for these two lead gifts, and we’re hopeful that they will encourage others to participate," said Rains.

Gannett CEO Bob Dickey was proud to say the USA TODAY Network papers, including FLORIDA TODAY, worked tirelessly to deliver vital hurricane news to readers, in addition to the $15,000 donation.

“Overall our community was spared of the major loss that could have resulted from a direct hit by Matthew,” said Jeff Kiel, President of FLORIDA TODAY. “However, while many experienced minimal loss, others in our community have suffered losses and are in need of assistance. I am proud that FLORIDA TODAY and the Gannett Foundation can help provide initial seed funding to this disaster relief fund and hoping others will help build the fund as well.”

Every cent, Rains emphasized, will go toward helping residents who were hit the hardest. In the coming weeks, United Way of Brevard will set up a case-management center with volunteers from Career Source of Brevard and Catholic Charities of Central Florida. Those volunteers will field 2-1-1 phone calls, and a committee will determine which cases require assistance.

“Although we avoided a direct hit, Hurricane Matthew had a serious impact on many Brevard County families,” said William M. Brown, the chairman, president and CEO of Harris Corp. “We are proud to support the Brevard Recovery Fund, which helps our neighbors in need to recover from the storm and get back on their feet again.”

Just established in the last few days, the fund is already reaching Brevard County neighborhoods, including Terry Sipes' in Palm Bay.

The retired Marine veteran was left without many options when a live wire fell across his chain-link fence and remained live, dipped in a foot of water. Nine calls to Florida Power & Light Co. led to the same dead end.

"I went out, put a chair out there for four days on and off, I chased away maybe 14 people," said Sipes, 56. "If anyone had cut through that water, they would have been dead ... zapped, never know what happened to them."

Finally, a visit from FPL made the Borraclough Avenue passage safe again, but Sipes was left with the costs to repair his home.

"This is stuff that could not have gotten done with me; I could not have afforded this stuff for another three, four, five months," Sipes said.

It brought tears to his eyes when United Way of Brevard stepped in Thursday when volunteers and an electrician arrived to remove debris and repair the system.

Rains also hope to help those apartment and condo dwellers who are now "essentially homeless," including those from Bay Towers in Titusville. In the short-term, United Way is out tarping roofs and lending volunteers where it can.

To pledge:

Visit www.online.uwbrevard.org

Florida Today


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