A Salvation Army-Lewiston/Auburn Corps officer lends a helping hand in Florida after Hurricane Ian.
Maj. Jessica Irwin departed the Portland International Jetport Oct. 6 for a two-week deployment to Port Charlotte, Florida. Irwin, known as Jessie, has since been involved in relief efforts as she helps residents and learns firsthand of the extent of the devastation.
“With the widespread loss of power, loss of drinking water, loss of property and most importantly the loss of life, this whole region has been vulnerable,” said Irwin, 55.
The response to Hurricane Ian, which made landfall on September 28 in Florida, included the American Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which helped restore power and restore access to clean water — drinkable — in some areas, Irwin said.
President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden arrived Oct. 5 in Fort Myers to assess the damage, with the president, alongside Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, speaking about the state’s long road to recovery and pledging full federal government support.
Irwin’s work has primarily involved distributing hot meals to residents of Port Charlotte and surrounding communities, providing emotional and spiritual support through religious advocacy, which she and her husband, Major David Irwin, often practice through their ministry at 67 Park St. in Lewiston. .
“We receive many sites daily, and as we are together as a team, I am a regular listener and counsellor, a praying person and also an advocating person,” Irwin said. “We are the hands and feet of Jesus. God works through us to bring help and hope, light and support.
David Irwin said they are building on their previous experience in Pennsylvania during Hurricane Ida in 2021.
“We try to meet the needs on the spot. It changes. In disaster emergency services, for any organization, it’s a living organism that evolves and you have to be able to roll with the punches,” David Irwin said of how volunteers at the Salvation Army approach help in these situations.
The death toll from the storm rose to 119 people, the majority of whom were elderly coastal citizens who drowned. The unpredictability of the storm’s track and delayed evacuation responses were attributed to the great loss of life.
“You start with an immediate need for food and this kind of service for people who have nothing, no electricity, no water, no food, then gradually people start to regain a little more mobility. “said David Irwin.
The outpouring of love and support was a tremendous morale booster and effective motivation, said Jessica Irwin. She estimates that by October 8 nearly 20,000 people were without power, and two days later the number had fallen to less than 2,600.
“The people of Port Charlotte are love incarnate; the professionals working to help restore living conditions are super heroes and it helps people in Port Charlotte communities to rise up strong to keep doing what needs to be done. The residents are vulnerable and tenacious, they need help and yet they generously support others. They take care of each other in a way that goes beyond the usual hospitality. Love is a verb… it is compassion in action, with its sleeves rolled up and its muscles engaged,” she said.
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