Doing What You Can – Where You Are

submitted by Beverly Helms

People, who live in Bonifay, Chipley or even Marianna miles inland from Mexico Beach or Panama City, never expected the winds associated with Hurricane Michael to continue at such a catastrophic speed. They did even beyond the state line and into Georgia and other states. As a result of the damage thousands of linemen, first responders and other emergency personnel were seen in northwest Florida assisting in efforts to get power and other services restored.

Many of the out of area linemen initially spent nights in their vehicles with no facilities for bathing or doing laundry. Many were not aware of the local accommodations in terms of cots on which to sleep, food being served and hot baths until days after their arrival.

Sandra Hardin coordinated the laundry of the Power South Linemen.

One accommodation for some of the linemen came about as a result of a long-time friendship between Carol Page of Power South, one of the companies who had linemen working in various areas in the Florida panhandle, and Sandra Hardin of Bonifay. This friendship proved that it didn’t matter if you hadn’t talked to each other in years.  Some friends are friends forever. Sandra and Carol were friends years ago when both went to Liberty Home Baptist Church in Andalusia, Alabama.

On the Sunday morning following the arrival of Hurricane Michael, Carol called Sandra’s sister, Sharmon Hardin and asked if Sandra still lived in Florida. The answer was “Yes.” Sharmon gave Carol her sister’s telephone number and of course she called Sandra. During the conversation, Carol shared with Sandra that her boss was looking for creative ways to get laundry done for his men who were assisting with getting power restored in the area. They had received an exorbitant quote to do the men’s laundry and knowing that the need could exist for weeks and perhaps even months, the boss was searching for creative ways the men could have clean laundry without spending an excessive amount.

Sandra, ready to do whatever she could and help in any way told Carol she might be able to get ladies from the area to do the laundry for the men if they could get the laundry to and from her. Debbie Marcum, who works with the Communications Marketing Department for Power South contacted Sandra and reported that someone would pick up the men’s dirty laundry from places where the lineman were staying and bring it to First Baptist Church, Bonifay,  or to Sandra’s place of employment.

Dwight Rich provided the coins for the laundry.

Sandra started on her quest to get help and realized there could be 20+ loads of clothes to be washed at any one time. She sent out a group text to numerous members of First Baptist Church and Dwight Rich Jr., also the son of the owner of Rich’s Coin Laundry was in that group. When Dwight responded she asked him about times she and some helpers she thought she could recruit, might be able to do that many loads of laundry. She knew power was not on in all areas, even in Bonifay and others would need to use the machines. Dwight suggested that if the ladies could meet at 5:00 a.m. in the morning they could be finished by 7 before the crowds started coming to use the machines. He also generously agreed to provide the coins for the washers and dryers. Sandra also sent out her plea via Face Book and many from the community responded. Brandi Jordan and Pam Noble would meet with the ladies from First Baptist Church alternately at the laundry mat to do the men’s clothing. Some weeks only one load of 20+ bags of laundry were washed and dried while another week the women met three mornings at 5:00am and did a total of 53 loads.

The “free” laundry process started when Sandra was notified that a load of dirty laundry was coming. Sandra got on her phone and contacted her volunteers and told them when they would need to meet at Rich’s Coin Laundry to wash, dry, fold and bag the men’s clothing. Once they were done, Sandra had her system in place to get them returned to the site where the men were staying even if she had to take them herself.  Several times individual ladies did the laundry in their homes and once, Brandi, a teacher at Holmes County High School, had three loads and thought it would be a great service project for the ESE classroom as they had a washer and dryer. The ESE students even wrote thank you notes to the linemen and put them in their bags prior to their being picked up and returned to the men.

Christine Lauen, one of the helpers who met to label the men’s clothing, noticed that some of the men’s socks were wearing thin so she put a post on Facebook about what was being done and suggested that individuals might want to contribute new socks as a small but tangible token of appreciation to the line men. Needless to say, the response to the posting was overwhelming. Hundreds of pairs of socks were donated to the cause. Currently, each bag of clean laundry is returned with at least three pair of new socks.

Sandra and the ladies from First Baptist Church, as well as the others who are helping recognize that what they did and continue to do pales in comparison to the efforts of the lineman who are in the area, taking risks and trying to restore power. Dr. Shelly Chandler, FBC pastor preached the second Sunday following the Hurricane on Power and its cost. The cost was brought home to people in the panhandle when reports of linemen getting hurt and even killed became a reality during their efforts to help others regain power.

Sandra’s role in the laundry ministry happened as a result of her long-time friendship with someone from Alabama. Dwight Rich Jr. and others became involved because of their friendship with Sandra. When asked about the effort, Sandra shrugged it off and said she was and is still just trying to do what she can wherever she is.  There have been many examples of this “kindness” during Hurricane Michael. People were helping strangers, friends reaching out to friends, neighbors helping and checking on neighbors, and most were involved in trying to make this small part of the world a safer, more caring environment.

Michael wreaked havoc on the panhandle, lives were lost, and homes destroyed or badly damaged, people were displaced and many who left may never be able to return. However, as bad as Michael was, in many ways it brought out the goodness in humanity some of which will never be publicly shared or recognized. Many times when a disaster is over people revert to their ways of non-involvement, not looking out for their neighbors, not having a real sense of belonging to a community, or group, or they may just go about their lives as if they are wearing blinders and not really seeing the needs or hurts of others.

Regardless of what happens in the future, it was wonderful to experience the friendships that were reunited and the helpfulness, teamwork, and charity that was displayed during the trying times of Michael. Hopefully, it will continue as there is still much work to be done, houses to be repaired or rebuilt, trees to be cut and removed, debris to be picked up and many people are still in need of help.

Power South linemen may never see the faces or know the names of the women who helped wash, dry and fold their clothes but the women thought of each man and said a prayer for their safety as the clothes were folded and returned to their fresh and clean laundry bags and for some, later in the process, having new socks included. Sandra and the many ladies and men who helped her did what they could where they were. Others have done and are doing the same. We live in a wonderful place and sometimes in the worst of times we are able to motivate and demonstrate the very best in each other.

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