HOLMES COUNTY - As the nation - and certainly the entire state of Florida - watched the threat of Hurricane Irma unfold, Holmes County residents began to take measures to not only prepare for the storm, but also to open their arms to those seeking shelter after nearly six million Floridians were under evacuation orders issued by Gov. Rick Scott.
Hurricane Irma was deemed the most powerful storm ever recorded to form in the Atlantic, but Northwest Florida avoided the brunt of the storm, experiencing Tropical Storm force winds and between 2 to 2.5 inches of rain, according to National Weather Service.
"We were very blessed that we didn't get more wind and damage from Hurricane Irma and that the storm lost some of its intensity before the outer bands reached our area," said Holmes County Sheriff John Tate. "We had about 50 in the Poplar Springs School shelter and about another 10 at the New Hope Fire Station. The community, law enforcement, American Red Cross, Health Department, and Emergency Management team all came together, and we had no real problems."
"When bad things happen, our community always comes together, just ordinary people doing extraordinary things."
Tesha Chandler of Ponce de Leon was one of those "ordinary people" - who just happened to make an extraordinary humanitarian event come together.
Chandler noticed that evacuees were gathering at the rest area off of Interstate 10 in Ponce de Leon and took action.
"It started out small," she said. "I went to the store Thursday night and passed by, noticing all the cars. I posted on Facebook Friday night that I wanted to help feed them Saturday, and just like that, it went from just me to more than 20 people showing up at the rest area to help, some of whom I didn't know that just saw the post after it had been shared."
Additionally, two troopers with the Florida Highway Patrol arrived and offered their services, even making a run to the store for hotdogs and bread.
"It was amazing," said Chandler. "At first, I thought, 'If I can just feed one person, it will be worth it.' But we ended up feeding about 300 evacuees, including two people from the Florida Keys. One lady actually ended up being invited to stay at someone's home here in Holmes County. I am so proud of my community and they way this snowballed into helping so many."
Area municipalities helped as well, with the Towns of Esto and Caryville inviting evacuees to stay on town grounds.
The old Bonifay Middle School campus served as a host shelter, opening Friday to accommodate evacuees under the direction of the American Red Cross and offering 115 cots.
Chandler said while she knows communities across the southeast pitched in to help, she couldn't be prouder of her own.
"This just shows who we are as a community," she said. "Truly, there is no place like Holmes."