BONIFAY – ‘Blessed’ is the sentiment most heard by Melea Flanary and her family while out helping their hometown of Bonifay and surrounding communities after category 4 Hurricane Michael ravished the area Wednesday, October 10.
Many homes suffered damages from Hurricane Michael including downed trees on homes, cars, outbuildings, no power or water and no cell service, making it difficult for people to let family members know the status of their well-being.
Flanary, who lives in Bonifay, made stops in Jackson County to deliver much needed supplies to those she could.
In a heartfelt post on her social media, Flanary wrote about visits to homes of friends and strangers.
On the first visit last week at a residence in Marianna, Flanary, her husband Todd and two of their five children, Maycee Rhea,11, and Lyndan ,10, saw that the home was a complete loss due to an oak tree having fallen on the it. Although this family had lost everything, they were grateful that their lives were spared and for the chicken and horse feed, along with meals and sweet tea delivered by the Flanary’s.
The family, which did not give permission to use their names for this story, simply called themselves, ‘blessed’.
Flanary's next stop was to her friend Stacey Webb's, which withstood the storm - though Webb's daughter's house was destroyed. Flanary says Webb’s family spoke of helping others.
“Our friends spoke of ‘paying it forward’ to those in need,” said Flanary. “Even though they are still without, because they are so ‘blessed’.”
With the delivery of a generator, Webb says she is grateful for friends who go the extra mile.
“When we complain and feel at our wits end for whatever reason,” said Webb. “Friends that love and care about you sometimes go the extra mile like no other, we are grateful to have a friend like that in Melea.”
Their last stop on October 18, was at an apartment complex whose residents were still without power and potable water. The people sitting outside were hungry, thirsty and needing gas - needs which Flanary was able to assuage.
Flanary says that none of the supplies they were able to deliver, including horse and chicken feed, generators, food and gas, would have been possible without the compassion of others. A call for donations and supplies was put out on Flanary’s Facebook page as well as a fundraiser for people to send money if they were unable to deliver goods. Some people responded generously by committing to both acts of kindness.
“This wouldn’t have been possible without the help of compassionate hearts and generous donations,” said Flanary. “This has all been amazing acts of kindness.”
Although all of the scenarios and visits were vastly different from each other, the gratitude from the recipients was the same. In those moments, race, political preference, or religion didn’t matter, more important things did, Flanary said.
“All three of these scenarios were vastly different from the other,” wrote Flanary. “Yet, at the core of each, was such an enormous gratitude for life and the blessings that have already come from this mass destruction. Not once did it cross our minds, or theirs, to consider race, religion, or political preference, because it didn’t matter. What matters is love. What matters is compassion. What matters is humanity.”
One thing Flanary says she couldn’t do was share photos of the homes she visited. It felt like stealing, she said.
“I did take a few photos but I quit and actually came home and deleted them,” she said. “I told the kids to put their phones down, to just live in the moment, and feel what is going on around us. Taking pictures felt like I was robbing our neighbors from something sacred."
"The walls and bricks, whether crumbled or still standing, were much more than just a houses where people ate and slept," she continued. "It was their security, a place where memories were made, prayers were prayed, intimate moments shared, and love resided. To capture the remains, of their home, was like stealing a piece of that from them and I just couldn’t do it.”
Flanary said her passion is to help others, but her purpose is to help others heal.
“During this time, the suffering is real, physically, emotionally, psychologically and ecologically,” she said. “People still can’t wrap their heads around what has happened here. We, it, will never be the same. Some people are displaced, homeless, jobless, and hopeless. It’s our responsibility, as humans, to take care of each other. For my family, it’s our responsibility, as Christians, to exude the love and light of God, through our actions, while bearing witness to others.”
Helping others shouldn’t just happen in the wake of disaster, helping others is something we should do always, according to Flanary.
“There are always people who need help,” said Flanary. “There is always something you can do. You don’t have to take sandwiches, drinks, toys, or any physical item. All you have to take is yourself and your spirit of love and compassion. That, is what people need the most and that is what we all possess, once the boundaries and limitations, of our physical existence, are removed. To provide this many people with just the necessities, is going to be a long process, to provide them with true healing, will take a lifetime. May God continue to bless the givers and the receivers, as we restore our beautiful Panhandle, mind, body, soul, and earth.”
Check back in next week's edition for more local storm-related acts of benevolence.