In August and September of 2004, Florida was hit by a number of tropical events; namely Hurricanes Charley, Frances and Jeanne.
The first hurricane was Charley. This storm caused extensive damage from Punta Gorda to Orlando and crossed directly over Arcadia, FL. After seeing the news reports, my heart went out to those people and I called on Rotary leaders in that area to see how I could assist. Local Rotary Club President, Susan Rachles let us know where the worst hit areas were. I drove down with my son, Ben Jr. and we brought our chainsaws and some other tools for the work ahead. After a few days of cutting downed trees and tree limbs, Ben Jr. and I returned home to Gainesville.
The next day at my own Rotary Club’s meeting, I gave a report of the devastation and the immediate need that many in Arcadia had for a hot meal as they were without electric power and it was estimated that it could be weeks before electric service would be restored. I found myself standing before my fellow Rotarians “sounding the cry” in hopes that my fellow members would respond.
Looking back on it, I shouldn’t have had any doubt as Rotarians by definition believe in service above self. The response was tremendous. Many made financial contributions to help buy food, while many others traveled to Arcadia with huge grills and cookers to prepare and give away more than 1,000 meals. We returned a week later and prepared an additional thousand meals. It was heartwarming that so many had responded to the “cry” and rewarding to see the smiling faces of people we were there to help.
Three weeks later, Hurricane Frances hit North Central Florida including the Gainesville and Waldo area. After the storm, a good friend and fellow Rotarian, Tony Domenech, asked me if I could help him remove a large tree that was downed by the hurricane from an elderly lady’s home. Because Tony “sounded the cry’,” I loaded up my backhoe/loader and chainsaw and we got the job done!
It was very soon afterwards that I began to learn of Rotarians from our club that needed assistance removing downed trees. So again, I “sounded the cry” at Rotary and a core group went out to help. This was the formation of “The Chainsaw Gang.”
And a good thing it was that the group had organized, as three weeks later Hurricane Jeanne came tearing through Gainesville. Again, I “sounded the cry” and the Rotary Chainsaw Gang went out and helped members of our club who were impacted by the hurricane.
Once we were done, the members of The Chainsaw Gang expressed the desire to be of further help. We contacted the United Way, and they directed us to the homes of people who were disabled and/or elderly who needed assistance.
Because NOAA has forecasted a large number of tropical events for 2017, we resurrected The Chainsaw Gang. Last week, I “sounded the cry” and over 40 Rotarians have signed up to do what they are capable of - and that may not be operating a chainsaw. Indeed, there will be a lot of clean-up that goes along with what we will do and all members of the “Gang” will make a positive impact.
To me, “sounding the cry” and getting such an amazing and sustained response really touched my heart. That experience serves as a reminder to me that we can all help our neighbors get through difficult times if we “sound the cry” and then all work together in the service of others in need.
"The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others." - Gandhi