Three hurricane recovery charities will be recipients of Season of Sharing

The journey from Altoona to the Florida Keys is a long one — more than 1,000 miles and longer than 18 hours by car.

Still, as Floridians continue to cope with devastation caused this year by Hurricane Irma, Pennsylvanians, including those locally, have offered assistance.

The same is true at the Mirror, which has chosen the Community Foundation of the Florida Keys Emergency Relief Fund as one of this year’s Season of Sharing recipients.

The foundation

The Community Foundation of the Florida Keys is a nonprofit organization, with the goal of serving “the needs and philanthropic aims of donors who wish to better the Keys,” according to information shared by Greg Charleston, a foundation spokesman.

The foundation manages more than 140 funds and endowments and has granted more than $22 million since 1996, Charleston said.

The foundation’s Florida Keys Emergency Relief Fund is designed to provide relief and recovery services solely to residents in the Key West and Key Largo areas who have been affected by Hurricane Irma.

“Funds are being distributed to help our community recover and rebuild, and help residents get their lives and homes back in order with repairs, transportation needs, rent, utilities, clothing, food, housing, medical supplies and care, child care and … more,” Charleston said, explain­ing that 100 percent of donations is distributed to the residents.

As of last week, the foundation had distributed nearly $620,000 through the relief fund, allowing them to aid hundreds of families throughout the Keys.

Local response

A firsthand description of the destruction by a Huntingdon County woman, who witnessed Irma’s disastrous weather, sheds some light on the need for that help.

Shannon Fegan, a 39-year-old physician’s assistant from Shade Gap, spent two weeks earlier this year in Florida’s Key West area, assisting those affected by Hurricane Irma.

That includes time before, during and after the storm.

“We said we experienced a hurricane warning, a flood warning and a tornado warning all in one night,” Fegan said, remembering the experience.

Fegan serves as a member of one of the National Disaster Medical System’s Disaster Medical Assistance Teams.

The NDMS is a federal program that provides medical care during disasters at the request of state officials, according to a news release.

“When a state requests our assistance, we will be there to serve until NDMS services are no longer needed,” NDMS Acting Director Ron Miller said.

Fegan, who typically works at Keystone Urgent Care in Chambersburg and Fulton County Medical Center in McConnellsburg, said she joined the NDMS in 2006.

Since then, she’s assisted at other disaster-stricken sites, including in 2008 when Hurricane Ike hit Texas.

But her start in emergency response began much earlier. Fegan said she spent her youth volunteering as a local firefighter and emergency medical responder.

“I still do some,” she said, adding her husband, John, and 16-year-old daughter, Shavonna, also volunteer.

Fegan said her other daughter, Camille, 10, hopes to join their ranks when she is old enough.

In the days before Irma made contact in Florida, Fegan said she and other NDMS responders were placed on alert.

“We have to be ready to respond and be out the door and at the airport in three hours,” Fegan said. “So you’re going about your daily life, but you have all your gear in the car ready to go at a moment’s notice.”

In this case, Fegan said she and her fellow responders deployed Sept. 9.

Among Fegan’s group were physicians, nurses, veterinary staff, paramedics, firefighters, communications experts and other professionals, she said.

“You get a really neat group of people and bring in a lot of assets with it,” Fegan said.

In the Key West area, the responders set up a field hospital, where they were able to tend to wounded, issue medications and offer other needed care until hospitals and doctors’ offices were brought back into operation, Fegan said.

“We ran for about a week until the hospital was able … to get up and running,” Fegan said.

During an emergency response, no patients are turned away, she said.

“It’s not an insurance versus non-insurance issue,” Fegan said. “It is for anyone who needs it.”

In addition to seeing many Florida residents who needed medical aid, Fegan said she was awestruck by the damage done when the storm hit Key West communities.

She recalled passing by a mobile-home park and seeing the trailers “just in piles.”

“Campers were just turned over … thrown on top of each other,” Fegan said. “It was just a very surreal sight to see.”

Season of Sharing

Season of Sharing is the Mirror’s annual holiday fundraiser held in cooperation with the Central Pennsylvania Community Foundation.

The fundraiser typically focuses on local charities, but the Mirror made an exception this year.

“One of the things that has made the Season of Sharing such a special, personal project for us at the Mirror is the local charities and local benefit,” Mirror General Manager Ray Eckenrode said.

“It would take something truly extraordinary for us to get away from that, but we thought the aftermath of not one, not two, but three historically damaging hurricanes fit that bill,” Eckenrode said, referring also to damage caused by Hurricanes Harvey and Maria. “We’re kind of taking the phrase ‘think global, act local’ and turning it on its head; we’re thinking local and acting globally.”

Last year, Eckenrode described Season of Sharing as “a holiday fundraiser that aims to combine the power of the local newspaper, the expertise of the Central Pennsylvania Community Foundation and the generosity of our central Pennsylvania readers.”

“The idea that the Season of Sharing would be rolling out at a time when the suffering in the wake of those storms was fading from the public eye also appealed to us, a reminder that while life goes on, many of these peoples’ lives are forever changed,” Eckenrode said.

Next year, he said, the focus likely will return to the Mirror readership area.

“We certainly anticipate this being a one-year detour toward a national fundraising effort and that we’ll go back to a local cause in 2018,” Eckenrode said.

Mirror Staff Writer Sean Sauro is at 946-7535.