When your “365 day” job is feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless, a hurricane like Irma opens your doors, and hearts, to many new opportunities to serve. And like the brave first responders who manned the firehouses and hospitals, St. Matthew’s House became home for many of our staff, who told their families to do their best, while they manned their stations, caring for those who had lost so much.
In our thirty years of operating Collier County’s only homeless shelters, in Naples and Immokalee, we have come to understand how fragile lives can be, as they move from security to homelessness. A hurricane makes that point with profound fury, crashing down on everything in its path.
Irma arrived just as a team from St. Matthew’s House returned from helping victims of Hurricane Harvey in Houston. No time to rest – we had to get ready for the opportunity to help our own friends and neighbors survive this nightmare.
Over the past weeks, we have served many thousands of meals at our shelters. Power company workers from all over the country bunked side by side with folks whose homes were ravaged. Our Immokalee Friendship House shelter received shipment after shipment of food, water and relief items, which were distributed to families who had lost everything.
In Naples, aid distribution centers were established and hundreds of folks came through every day for food, water and hygiene products.
Our Justin’s Place Recovery clients loaded into vans and traveled to the hardest hit victims in East Naples and Everglades City, to help wherever it was needed. Many of our neighbors there are still without homes or food, so the work continues every day.
Our catering company, Delicious by Design, and its leader Chef Kris Jubinville, began feeding first responders and FEMA representatives alongside our clients within the first two hours after the storm, and continuously since.
Perhaps the most remarkable element we’ve seen is the generosity of our local residents and businesses, and also groups of volunteers from states as far away as Indiana and Tennessee. They arrived at our doors without notice, and asked to be put to work.
St. Matthew’s House does not receive government funding. Our twelve locations, over 300 employees, and over 2,000 volunteers serve the community, and operate social enterprises (thrift shops, catering, car wash, coffee shops, and a hotel and conference center) that provide both revenue and jobs that enable us to operate. And generous donations from the community, every penny of which goes to client services, rounds out our revenue.
While we have lost over $500,000 of this revenue, and many of our facilities sustained damage, we look back at Hurricane Irma with immense pride. Our dedicated team rose to the occasion, and our loving community stood beside us, with the incredible support and dedication for which we are eternally grateful.
We have much for which to be thankful. This is not the last disaster that will hit us; St Matthew’s House stands ready for the future.
Chairman of the Board
St. Matthew’s House
Tags: Chairman of the Board, Joe Trachtenberg