ORLANDO, Florida — The disaster may be around 300 miles away, relegated to the Big Bend and Panhandle section of the state, but, that did not stop some local volunteers from pitching in by preparing 2,000 disaster relief boxes to be sent to the state's hardest-hit areas.
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"You're helping people that need the supplies," said eighth grader Bianca Rodriguez, who spent Wednesday morning volunteering alongside her mother. "Us doing this helps give them the supplies that they need. And it's also like fun in the process."
Rodriguez was one of two dozen volunteers who came to Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida in Orlando to package up cans of tuna, bags of rice, paper towels and other assorted goods. They formed an assembly line, building boxes on one end and taping them up on another, before loading them up on large, wooden palettes.
As they watched the storm intensify in recent hours, Second Harvest pulled the event together quickly.
"We've got a lot of great volunteers in the community. And they understand how important this stuff is," said the food bank's Greg Higgerson. "We've got to take care of each other. That's what we do in Florida, that's what we do in Central Florida. And our neighbors to the north are in some rough times right now."
Those in the Sunshine State know what it is like to weather big storms. Last fall, Hurricane Irma pummeled the state. Hurricane Maria followed in its wake, ripping through the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico; displaced neighbors came to Florida for refuge and resources.
"I was part of Irma here last year locally, so I know how scary that is. I know it can hit home as well," said Gregory Gorski, who also came to volunteer. "Making a difference in our community. We're all part of a Rotary Club who wants to give back."
Gorski, who serves as president of Lake Buena Vista Rotary Club, said that even helping in a small way — working alongside complete strangers for a morning — makes a big difference.
"We don't know those folks, doesn't matter. We're all here together today for the same cause," he said.
A different group of volunteers will return to Second Harvest Wednesday afternoon, and again Thursday and Saturday, to prepare the boxes.
The food bank will hold off on shipping the goods until they can determine the precise area of greatest need, planning to work with a sister food bank in the northern part of the state.