Houston & Peach

Volunteers aim to ‘bring some sunshine’ to Hurricane Irma evacuees in Fort Valley

Peach Countians welcome Hurricane Irma refugees

With both Ft. Valley hotels booked up, volunteers retreated to Pineola Farm to assemble care packages to welcome those fleeing Hurricane Irma.
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With both Ft. Valley hotels booked up, volunteers retreated to Pineola Farm to assemble care packages to welcome those fleeing Hurricane Irma.

Most days, the Pineola Farms cotton barn houses the doggie bow business of Delise Knight.

But on Friday, the work space transformed into assembly and packing lines for care packages for Hurricane Irma evacuees who’ve sought shelter in the city.

About 20 volunteers cut bright orange ribbons, assembled boxes with a “Fort Valley Georgia Cares” sticker and filled the boxes with all kinds of goodies, including snacks, restaurant coupons, coloring books and crayons, water, and information about the community, such as where parks and playgrounds are located.

“We just want to welcome everybody to Peach County, Fort Valley, and make their stay as comfortable as possible as they’re worried about their homes,” said Kathie Lambert, executive director of Fort Valley Main Street/Downtown Development Authority.

“I have children ... down in Florida. They just couldn’t get on the road, so I know what they’re all thinking. It’s a tough time, and they’ll want to get back as soon as possible.

“So, the best we can do is welcome them for the few hours or days that they’re here,” Lambert said, “And see what happens.”

The volunteers also delivered the care packages to the city’s two hotels that are filled to capacity. But first they prayed over the packages.

“Heavenly father, we know that you could move the wind, you could move the tornado, the hurricane out of the way. But heavenly father, we ask you, wherever it goes, protect the men and women, the children, the buildings that they live in,” one volunteer prayed.

For Knight, the care packages not only fulfilled a need of evacuees but also of people in the community who expressed a desire to help.

“We just wanted to bring some sunshine,” she said.

With more than enough donations from businesses and individuals, volunteers also expect to have enough care kits to take elsewhere — including to Fort Valley Festival Park, which has 45 hookups for recreational vehicles for water and electricity with restrooms.

Additionally, Peach County has opened up two fire stations to house evacuees: No. 1 at 6711 Peach Parkway, Byron, and No. 6 at 1770 Ga. 341, Fort Valley, said Jeff Doles, Peach County’s EMA director and fire chief.

Charles Sanders, who evacuated with his wife from Tampa, Florida, was staying at the Days Inn in Fort Valley Friday. The two were among those receiving the care packages.

“We just needed to get out of there because traffic’s like bumper to bumper,” Sanders said. “It took us 13 hours to come from Tampa to here.”

Along the route, hotels were filled up, rest areas were overflowing with parked vehicles, gas stations had run out of gas, and vehicles were abandoned along the roadways — likely having run out of gas, he said.

“It’s just a disaster,” said Sanders, who has a sister who lives in Fort Valley.

Many people back in Tampa didn’t want to leave their homes, but life is more valuable than a house, Sanders said.

Sanders was grateful for the care packages he and his wife received from the volunteers. He thanked and hugged the volunteers who delivered them to the hotel.

“God bless you,” he said.

Becky Purser: 478-256-9559, @BecPurser