Marion County turns out to give helping hand to Florida evacuees

There’s no doubt that when a person is in a time of need, it’s nice to have people there to help and a community to support you. But what if your home community isn’t available to back you up? What if you’ve had to evacuate your community due to the threat of a natural disaster?

We’ve seen just that in recent days with the threat of devastation caused by Hurricane Irma in Florida as many people evacuated the Sunshine State and headed for a safer place inland. Due to the high number of evacuees many hotels in larger cities such as Atlanta, Macon, and Chattanooga filled-up fast leaving only the outlying areas with available rooms meaning quite a few of those evacuees found their way into Marion County for shelter.

In usual fashion, our community has stepped up to help those evacuees staying in our local hotels in Kimball and Jasper. The owners and management of Maximum Fit stepped up right away…going to Facebook as early as Saturday and asking their followers on the social media site to volunteer and help by donating anything possible. The gym hosted meals at their location for the evacuees, delivered food and supplies to the local hotels and campgrounds, and even collected donations to help evacuees out. Owners JD and Kim Genter even gave gas cards to some of the families to help with the drive back home.

Local churches also played a big part in helping out with everything from home-cooked meals and food, donations, and basic needs. Both Jasper First Baptist and Castle Rock Baptist in Jasper helped provide those meals and other needs to evacuees while others took up donations and also took in donations for national missions that help provide aid to those on the ground in affected areas.

And that wasn’t the only local businesses and organizations playing a part. Many local restaurants including Western Sizzlin Steakhouse in Jasper, SueBob’s Diner in Powell’s Crossroads, and many others donated food, water, and other supplies to help out.

The evacuees we’ve talked to say they’ve been very appreciative of so many helpful people in the Marion County community.

One evacuee, Christopher Gibson, from St. Petersburg, FL along and his wife Angel and their three children ended up in Kimball after being unable to find any vacancies all the way up I-75 and into Chattanooga. They say they were headed toward Nashville in hopes that something would be available when they took a chance and stopped in Kimball to stretch their legs and, if nothing else, grab a bite to eat.

“We stopped to eat, get out of the car for a few minutes after being on the road for almost a day straight and we just took a chance to see if a room was available, and it was…so we decided to stay here rather than go even further away or up the road,” Gibson said.

“We weren’t even sure we would find a place to stay, but what we found here was so much more,” Gibson continued. “The community here is amazing…like nothing we’ve ever seen or experienced before and we can’t say thank you enough to all of the amazing people who’ve shown such generosity to all of us evacuees…people they’ve never even met before!:

Angel Gibson said, “We felt more at home here than we do in our own town! I’ve always wanted to move to the mountains, and when the time is right and we can do it we definitely won’t forget the generous and kind acts show by those here.”

And it wasn’t just the Gibson family who expressed those same sentiments. Many other Irma evacuees had similar things to say about our community and people in it like the Genters and Western Sizzlin’s Spencer Wayne.

One local resident (who wished to remain anonymous) who was handing out gas cards and restaurant gift cards to some of the evacuees as they began to leave on Tuesday said it makes them feel good to know our community cares.

“In this day and age, we hear so often about negative things in the news. People fighting over this or that or the color of their skin, and it seems like the whole world has turned mean and cold toward each other. It’s nice to see that our community can come together to help so many people even if only in a little way during a time like this,” they said.  And it’s not just a Jasper thing or South Pittsburg thingI’m just glad that I can call this area my home

“And it’s not just a Jasper thing or South Pittsburg thing. People from all over the valley and even from across the line in Bridgeport have come out and helped, donating water, food, and just their time to help these people. I’m just glad that I can call the Seqautchie Valley my home and I pray we never lose this great sense of community, fellowship, and desire to help one and other.”




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