PANAMA CITY, Fla. – The wind blasted with no signs of ceasing. Tornadoes touched down without mercy. The land was stripped of their foundation only to leave behind stilts of what once was a home.
Over 2,500 Florida Guard members were staged across the Panhandle before Hurricane Michael made landfall. Along with the Guard members were volunteers with the World Central Kitchen, a not-for-profit, non-governmental, volunteer-based organization based out of Washington, D.C. One of their volunteers is Tim Lambert, a Portland, Oregon, native.
“I got called Oct. 8 at 4 p.m. to be in Pensacola by 9 a.m.,” Lambert said.
On the morning of Oct. 9, Lambert and the World Central Kitchen made it to the Emergency Operations Center in Panama City, Florida, where members of the Florida National Guard, first responders and civilians were staying in response to the hurricane.
“For the first four or five days, we were cooking off of a 6-burner stove, cooking roughly 4,000 meals a day,” Lambert said.
Members of the Florida National Guard are receiving meals at the Panama City EOC, as well as Guardsmen and civilians in Mexico Beach, Florida, provided by the World Central Kitchen.
The FLNG is working on 24-hour operations following Michael’s landfall, with Guard members going door-to-door checking on residents, clearing the roads of debris, providing supplies and security at shelters and more.
The Guard’s mission is to help build the community back together following the hurricane, and the WCK’s mission is to provide meals to those impacted by natural disasters, whether it be the locals or those on duty that responded.
“Without them, we would’ve had meals-ready-to eat (MREs) for breakfast, lunch and dinner,” said Florida National Guard Spc. Bethany Creasey, a motor transport operator from the 53rd Brigade Support Battalion, Alpha Co. in Pinellas Park, Florida.
In her three hurricane activations, this is her first experience with the WCK.
“It is good for the morale,” Creasey said.
“We created this organization after the earthquake in Haiti in 2010,” said Jose Andres, the WCK founder and Michelin-star chef. “It was the beginning of what I never imagined would be this kind of relief [effort].”
Matt LeMasters, a volunteer from Wilmington, North Carolina, received help during Hurricane Florence earlier this year. LeMasters immediately signed up to volunteer for future disasters because of the help he had received during Florence. Another volunteer, Yamil Lopez, joined the organization after he received aid from WCK in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.
They served millions of meals in response to Hurricane Harvey, Maria and Florence and other disasters around the world.
Their duration at each location depends on the needs of the people.
“We could be here for a month, we could be here for three months,” Lambert said. “We look at what happens with the local economy when businesses start to come back online and when people come back to the area, only then it’s time for us to transition out and allow the local economy to get back on its feet.”
Hurricane Michael has brought the Florida National Guard and the World Central Kitchen together to better serve the residents and guests of Florida who were impacted by this natural disaster, along with other partnerships.
Until the needs of the Florida people are met, organizations like the World Central Kitchen along with the Florida National Guard remain committed to assisting communities across the panhandle.