By Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso
By the time evacuation orders were given to residents of Jacksonville, Florida, on Thursday, October 6, the rain from Hurricane Matthew was already pouring down. “We quickly switched to disaster mode and sent our volunteers home to take care of their families,” said NMCRS Jacksonville Director Monika Woods. “But soon, clients started coming to our office. With a staff of three, we served more than 70 clients that afternoon. Every client told us they were grateful we were open and providing evacuation assistance.”
Meanwhile, 30 miles east, military families at Naval Base Mayport were ordered to evacuate, so NMCRS Mayport also went into disaster mode and began providing interest- free loans to Navy and Marine Corps families for emergency expenses.
Soon, NMCRS Mayport had to close because of strong winds. “We helped more than 50 families that afternoon before we had to shut down,” said NMCRS Mayport Director Bill Kennedy. “We opened our office again for a few hours on Sunday and Monday to process more evacuation assistance for families who were returning home and had not received assistance prior to evacuating, but had spent their savings on food, gas, and temporary lodging.”
Navy ombudsmen, Fleet and Family Service Centers, the news media, and social media all helped get the word out about evacuation assistance from NMCRS. “Calls started coming in from spouses who didn’t know if they should evacuate or not,” said Jaymie Muser, ombudsman for the USS Iwo Jima. The Iwo Jima got underway ahead of the storm, sailing to Haiti to assist with the cleanup efforts resulting from Hurricane Matthew. “We told the spouses to start filling their disaster preparation kits, thinking about where they would go, and making a plan. Preparation is key.
Military families don’t always have the “rainy day” funds to pick up and leave at a moment’s notice. Navy and Marine Corps families are fortunate to have the Society as a financial resource.”
When the staff at NMCRS Mayport returned to regular office hours, they had helped 124 families with interest-free loans totaling more than $60,000. “About 15 houses on base had been damaged by fallen trees,” said Bill Kennedy, “and those families weren’t allowed back in their houses. They needed our nancial assistance to pay for more temporary lodging and food.”
Meanwhile, NMCRS Jacksonville re-opened its office and had volunteers wanting to help. “By the time Hurricane Matthew passed, we’d served 136 USN and USMC families,” said Monica Woods. Most single service members received a $300 interest-free loan, and families were given a $600 interest-free loan.” After the storm, a Navy family returned to ask for a second loan. They had used their first disaster assistance loan to pay for the hotel when they evacuated, and now they’d lost all their perishable food because the electricity was out. “This Sailor had a one-year-old and a two-month old,” Monica said, “and because their home was so hot without air conditioning, they needed to stay a few more days in a hotel.” Needless to say, the family got the help they needed.
“The week after the hurricane, we had a lot of requests for financial assistance to repair damaged houses and cars,” Monica said. Similarly, NMCRS Mayport Relief Services Assistant Barb Dulaney reported that service members also requested financial assistance to help pay their car and home insurance deductibles so they could begin to make repairs related to storm damage.
“Families who needed financial assistance received it, and all in all, everyone worked together to get information communicated,” said Jaymie Muser. “Fortunately, the hurricane shifted out to sea. We had some damage, but nothing catastrophic, thankfully.”
Your generous support helped us provide $376,000 in assistance to 660 clients impacted by Hurricane Matthew in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia. We were able to be there for Sea Service members and their families, and that’s because of you.