Habitat wants your hospitality

  • January 31, 2015
  • /   Ben Sheffler
  • /   early-learning
It's time for Pensacola to show its southern hospitality to some out-of-town volunteers helping repair homes damaged in last April's flood. [sidebar] To help with the hospitality project, call Pensacola Habitat at 850-434-5456. To learn more about BRACE, click here. [/sidebar] Pensacola Habitat for Humanity will launch a program Monday called Pensacola Hospitality Project, asking people to help provide a dinner once a week for the volunteers. "We were hopeful to allow the expression of 'thank you' in the way of food," says Tim Evans, executive director of Pensacola Habitat. "Everybody has to eat, and we have some pretty good cooks in town, whether they're at restaurants or just somebody who has a kitchen that they can crank out some casseroles." There are around 50 volunteers in the area from World Renew, Mennonite Disaster Service and United Methodist Committee on Relief. They've come from all over the country. Evans says these groups have been in Pensacola for disaster recovery before, and teams will rotate every couple weeks through the end of March. "These folks are now doing serious repair work during the week, probably somewhere between six and 10 houses at a time," Evans says. The homes being worked on are ones whose owners didn't have flood insurance and didn't qualify for a FEMA grant or loan. "That is the slice that since mid-summer has been trying to find help in getting their homes repaired," Evans says. "And really we're having a tough time finding assistance." Assistance is tied to household income and is available for up to 80 percent of the area median income level, which for a family of four is around $45,000 per year, Evans said. He says that of the 1,000 people who reached out for assistance, more than 100 cases have qualified. Ultimately, Evans expects between 250-300 to meet the income requirement and other guidelines to get help. Habitat_hospitalityGreg Strader, executive director of BRACE, said Habitat has been an extraordinary partner in helping the volunteer construction teams feel at home while they work. Strader's agency — Be Ready Alliance Coordinating for Emergencies — has been working on recovery efforts since the April deluge. "Habitat and the Florida recovery team have really been exceptional partners in engaging volunteer recovery teams in ways that have been far beyond our expectation or greatest hope," Strader said. "The teams that are coming in from out of town are finding our community incredibly hospitable, welcoming, demonstrating support through meals provided by our community, and just welcomed in ways that they've seldom been welcomed by other communities impacted by disaster." Pensacola Habitat set aside four of its homes, two of which were also flood damaged, to house the World Renew team during its time here. The Mennonite Disaster Service team is staying at Richards Memorial United Methodist Church, and the United Methodist Committee on Relief team travels and stays in RV's. In the past three years, Pensacola Habitat has expanded beyond just building homes and has been working with neighborhoods for revitalization, Evans says. "Both for this organization, Pensacola Habitat, and Habitat International, community involvement and particularly disaster recovery is a new initiative," he says. Evans says Pensacola Habitat needs help with the hospitality project. "We just thought we would open ourselves up and allow the community's response to flow through here," Evans says, and through the end of March, "We can use all the help we can get."