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Community Foundation invests in storm resilience, preparation

Ashley Morales



This photo, taken May 11, 2024 in the Estero Island area of Fort Myers Beach, shows how residents are still working to rebuild their homes and lives nearly two years after Hurricane Ian hit in September 2022. The deadly category 5 storm was the third-costliest weather disaster on record worldwide, the deadliest hurricane to strike the state of Florida since 193 and the strongest hurricane to make landfall in Florida since Hurricane Michael in 2018. Photo: Ashley Morales.

Community Foundation Tampa Bay has been awarded a $300,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to support ongoing disaster relief efforts, and increase the resiliency of local nonprofits in the wake of Hurricane Idalia and ahead of the predicted record-breaking 2024 hurricane season.

Idalia devastated parts of Citrus, Hernando and Pasco counties in September 2023. Community Foundation Tampa Bay (CFTB) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation recognize that many nonprofits are still struggling with unplanned costs and long-term recovery needs.

“When these disasters hit, nonprofits are selfless in what they do,” said Katie Shultz, Senior Director of Community Investments for CFTB. “They just activate; they’re shifting and finding resources and money that they can move around to address the immediate community need, but when their head gets back above water, they have this huge hole in their budget that they weren’t anticipating. So this Robert Wood Johnson grant funding allowed us to refill some of those holes.”

A portion of the funds will immediately address unmet needs identified through the Foundation’s “critical needs list,” where impacted nonprofits outline unbudgeted expenses from the hurricane. This includes grants to organizations like the Community Foodbank of Citrus County to cover higher-than-expected food distribution costs.

The remaining funds are allocated towards resiliency efforts, including helping nonprofit leaders develop organizational continuity plans for essential services and supporting disaster preparedness trainings for nonprofits and communities. One such training is a free disaster prep and CPR training course to be hosted by Sol Relief June 25.

“It takes years to get back to normal after a hurricane or major disaster, so it’s important to keep these preparation efforts at the forefront of everyone’s minds,” Shultz said. “Tampa Bay has been somewhat blessed in the last couple years, but at some point, it’s going to happen here, so we’ve got to be abundantly prepared. There is no wasted money when it comes to hurricane preparedness, and I think as funders, we have an obligation to be proactive in preparing others.”

Hurricane preparedness and resiliency has been front of mind since CFTB staff and St. Petersburg community leaders visited Fort Myers and Fort Myers Beach in May, 2023. The group met with elected officials, government employees and business leaders to learn how our area can better prepare for and respond to the massive devastation caused by a Category 5 storm like Hurricane Ian, which pummeled Lee and Charlotte Counties in Southeast Florida September 2022. 

Fort Myers, May 19, 2023: Devastation caused by Hurricane Ian. Photo: Wilma Norton, Community Foundation Tampa Bay.

“The main takeaway for me was continuity of operations,” said Wilma Norton, Vice President of Community Connections at Community Foundation Tampa Bay, after the May 2023 trip. “Have a plan, whether you’re a nonprofit or a business, on how you are going to operate in those days, weeks and even months following a major storm if you don’t have internet or a physical building to come back to. Normal may be years away, so have a plan on how you’ll continue operating.”

The need for such efforts is heightened by Tampa Bay’s vulnerability to hurricanes. The region is rated the seventh most storm-vulnerable globally, with a potential $175 billion in damages from a direct hit, according to the World Bank. Forecasters predict the 2024 Atlantic hurricane season could see 30-33 named storms, a record number.

Related reading: St. Pete leaders push proactive approach to hurricane prep


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