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Financial assistance for a fresh start given by Disaster Relief Fund

October 28, 2022
By Sheila Evans

The Boca Grande Disaster Relief Fund handed out its first 23 checks to help businesses and organizations in Boca Grande recover from Hurricane Ian. The amount of the grants is not public information, but the results will be substantial, noted Larry Hannah, one of the Fund’s management committee members.

“I got a lot of hugs and kisses,” beamed Hannah, recalling the reaction of those who were among the first recipients. There were also tears: tears of sadness and happiness; tears of gratitude and hope. 

“It is very rewarding for us to be able to provide these funds,” he added. The Disaster Relief Fund is administered by the Lighthouse United Methodist Church, under a provision of the Federal Internal Revenue Service, allowing an established charitable institution to set up and administer relief funds in a disaster. 

The Fund is overseen by a committee of four – Larry Hannah, Mary O’Bannon, Sharon Cross and Stephanie Newman. They have quickly developed an application process and begun distributing grants aimed at keeping Boca Grande businesses operational, supporting payrolls, and assisting community organizations to continue serving the people.

Hannah said the common theme among those receiving funds was that they would be able to have cash flow when The Gasparilla Inn and Club opens. This was a terrific relief for many businesses, since The Inn’s opening signals that the area’s season has begun. The Inn has announced it expects to be open by mid-December. 

Without the Fund’s help, many businesses assumed they would have to close their operations entirely. Even if they could have eventually reopened, if they missed the season their efforts might be in vain. That is no longer a concern. Hannah is confident the Island businesses will be ready.

“Some may need a second check,” Hannah said. “But we will be here to help them as long as needed.” 

He said money continues to be donated to the Fund. 

“And we have not asked for a dime!” he said. 

Once the Fund was established and people knew how they could help, there has been no need to solicit money – it has been donated freely and generously.

Hannah said checks have gone to fishing guides, boutiques, churches, outfitters, and organizations – a broad spectrum of businesses and community services. 

One of those is the First Baptist Church, which is now defying the “condemned” symbol on the side of the building.

First Baptist’s Pastor Gary Beatty said he was glad he never knew what the symbol meant, or he might never have moved ahead so quickly to clean out the storm debris and begin the process of rebuilding. He said the check from the Fund means a great deal in the church’s efforts to recover.

Pastor Gary Beatty accepting a check from the Boca Grande Disaster Relief Fund to help with repairs to the   church.                            Photo by Cheryl-Schum  Hopkins

“Everything we get is a blessing,” he said. “It is loving care in action.” 

Beatty said he has not heard from the insurance company yet on how much will be covered, but money from the Disaster Relief Fund will help with his $20,000 deductible. 

“It is a life saver,” he said. 

Harper Little Construction Company from Lakeland has moved ahead with demolition and clean-up. 

“We are done with the prep work, and it is time to start rebuilding,” Beatty said. “I am trying in every way to express my gratitude for the help we are being given. Words are cheap and easy, but I am trying to express my heart … my heartfelt gratitude to the community.”

Larry Hannah said more checks will be delivered to Fund applicants next week.

 And the story of Boca Grande’s recovery continues.