A week before Thanksgiving, more than 2,000 Guests of Honor from across Fort Myers, Florida, received much-needed care at Convoy of Hope’s Community Event. It marks the continued support Convoy is bringing to the area, which was hit by the Category 5 Hurricane Ian last year.
Today, it’s a different place. Just down the road from First Assembly Fort Myers — where Convoy was stationed and offered distributions and community care after Ian hit — people are still recovering, one repaired building and cleared road at a time.
With 15 churches represented, dozens of organizations in attendance, and hundreds of volunteers, there was plenty of help to go around. Over 1,000 children received new shoes. Attendees received haircuts, job training, family portraits, and more. And everyone left with bags of groceries.
Additionally, Fort Myers Mayor Kevin Anderson proclaimed November 18 “Convoy of Hope Day” to recognize Convoy’s service to southwest Florida during its recovery from hurricanes Ian and Irma. This honor spoke to a connection Convoy has been building for over a year.
Most guests can recall exactly where they were when Hurricane Ian struck. Storms strike the coastal state often, but Ian was fast and powerful, leaving many stranded for hours in floodwaters.
Maria Espinoza remembers when phone lines on Sanibel Island went down the day of the storm. She and fellow staff at Fish of SanCap — a local nonprofit — were receiving calls from people stuck in floodwaters.
“The water is rising,” callers reported. “What’s going to happen?”
Through Fish of SanCap, Espinoza has been providing help for Sanibel-Captiva residents through community services. Time and again, she has seen that when many organizations and community leaders work together, many in need are served. That truth was on full display at Convoy’s Community Event.
In the Veterans Services tent, a Navy veteran and her husband were able to finish their resumes and receive housing through Hearts & Homes for Veterans. Veterans have been hugely affected in the storm’s aftermath. A woman and her daughter at the National Breast Cancer Foundation’s tent shared resources with their friends who are uninsured so they can get mammograms. Siblings at Fort Myers Christian School received brand-new shoes and had fun in the Kids Zone.
A Convoy of Hope Community Event also offers relief for those providing social services. Partnering with Convoy allows them to take a deep breath and remember why they do what they do.
“After the storm, I had such fatigue,” Espinoza said. “There’s so much heaviness, especially in recovery. Things like [this Community Event] I love because I can go back and say, ‘This is what got me into the field.’”
The event also engaged Spanish-speaking Guests of Honor. Members from participating churches were not only able to provide connection, but prove they were neighbors who understood people’s stories.
Grace Hernandez, a Cape Coral resident working at the Gardens in a Bag booth, said about 70 percent of people she translated for spoke Spanish. She recalled a young boy who was translating for his mom — when Hernandez started speaking Spanish, his face relaxed. Hernandez remembers growing up with a similar experience.
“The relief he had on his face said, ‘I can be a kid right now,’” she said. “There’s a hunger here that people don’t realize: While you’re helping the physical hunger, it’s providing more than that. We’re able to connect when they see someone understands them.”
“I love how Convoy welcomes everyone and gives willingly,” she added. “Sometimes, you’re just going through a bad time and you need a hand up. Once you start connecting with the community, you see the very people you’re serving want to help.”
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