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‘DunnellonStrong’

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Event offers food, water and supplies to residents

By Jeff Bryan

Jeff Bryan

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Riverland News

Hurricane Irma wasn’t the first experience Kerry and Susan Gregory have dealt with when it comes to the Atlantic Hurricane season.

The couple, who purchased a house in Lake Tropicana, lived in Southern Florida during the historic 2004 season when Hurricanes Charley, Frances and Jeanne battered the state within a six-week span.

Still, they never lost power and their home at the time wasn’t damaged.

But Irma wasn’t as kind, having knocked out their power for five days. Despite the hardship, the Gregory’s were “overall, pretty fortunate.”

“We had help from co-workers who didn’t suffer power outages,” the couple said as they enjoyed a hot meal and ice cold water Saturday outside of the Dunnellon Chamber & Business Association office.

They also sheltered at Susan’s work, because they live in a manufactured home, heeding the Marion County Sheriff Office’s mandatory evacuation order for those living in mobile and manufactured homes.

But the power outage was a new experience.

“We’ve been very lucky,” they said. “But our home wasn’t damaged and life will return to normal.”

“Dunnellon Strong” came together as several organizations and businesses had sought ways to help residents in the greater Dunnellon area. After a brief conversation, all agreed, pooling their resources and hosting one large event was the best way to reach the masses. The Dunnellon Chamber & Business Association served as the host site, and when the call was put out for volunteers, it was answered, without hesitation.

Among the organizations and businesses that donated food, cash or other items, included: Carmela’s Restaurant, Gary’s Carpet, the Dunnellon Lions Club, American Legion Post No. 58, River Life Church and Chamber volunteers. Dunnellon Fire Rescue provided a much-needed supply of bottled water for area residents.

Winn-Dixie struck a deal with the Lion’s Club, which purchased more than $1,000 of food, where it had set up Wednesday, according to Frank Carmela. Then, Penny Lofton and several others came over and the discussions turned toward having one big event.

“Within one day, by communication and who’s calling who, people were giving like crazy and here we are today giving out a lot of food,” Carmela said. “Businesses, regular people jumped in. It just came together so quick, so fast and 100 percent successful.”

This community is willing to help anyone, Carmela said.

“It’s unbelievable,” he added, “what folks do.”

But, Carmela stressed, it isn’t about recognition for the businesses, organizations and individuals who made the event happen.

“These are the people I see all year around, and that’s what it is about,” said Carmela, who co-owns Carmela’s Restaurant. “I heard so many stories the past few days in my restaurant, it would bring tears to your eyes.”

Initially, it began as an opportunity to thank the linemen, according to Annette Stutzman. But it morphed into a communitywide event.

“This is for the people who still don’t have power, it’s for the people who just regained power and are trying to get acclimated again,” Stutzman said. “Basically, it’s for anyone who had been suffering through this.”

The amount of volunteers wasn’t a surprise.

“Absolutely not,” said Stutzman, who has lived in Dunnellon since she was in kindergarten. “They never cease to amaze me with the help.”

And the scores of people who came out were thankful for the food, cold drinks, bottled water, food and other supplies being given away. There were plenty of smiles, laughter, heartfelt tears and “thank you’s” for those who organized the communitywide “picnic.”

“One young lady was literally in tears,” Stutzman said. “She just wanted cleaning supplies, water and a little bit of fellowship at this point.”