It was 8 a.m. Thursday morning when Jacob Kent walked upstairs and sat down next to me. I had been waiting to speak to him... and he had been waiting to speak to me. We knew in the devastation of Hurricane Michael, we had to do something. We saw the devastation that played over and over on the morning news and on our timelines, knowing only hours earlier the media teams were waiting to see what the aftermath of the storm would be once the sun came up. We were both shocked. In that conversation, we knew we had to take action. Houses would need to be rebuilt, food would have to be provided, people would need clean drinking water, electrical lines would need to be cleared, trees churned into mulch that currently lay as obstacles to emergency vehicles. Great, there would be plenty for us to do. The only problem was, Jacob and I do one thing well, marketing. We took a few minutes to think up the best plan of attack and took action.
They say your network is your net worth and if that saying is true, our's are golden. As marketers, we knew we could raise awareness and get people involved. If we move people in web traffic daily, surely this would be feasible. "But will it work? Will our friends, family, colleagues, and community members engage with us trying to give instead of the usual sales driven content we are used to doing" I asked Jacob, explaining that generally a live video feed wouldn't be used to drive donations. They are meant for events and marketing and we discussed what other ways we could give back as much as possible. After planning out what we would do, we started filming. Filming us getting things started, filming us going to the businesses that would end up donating so many resources, filming us preparing to leave, and eventually filming our journey to share with others. The plan was pretty simple, we were going to do live streams and film footage asking our network to assist us in raising goods and supplies for those affected. What happened next, we didn't expect.
We started with a few facebook post looking for early support within our fellow business owners and entrepreneurs. Many local businesses jumped to action. IT Authorities donated a ton of non-perishable food and bottled water, Grassroots kava house donated many pounds of coffee and hot coffee cups, Albright Landscaping donated over $200 in gas money towards our journey, and Bula Kafe donated over $300 worth of groceries and water! That was a great start.... and that was only by 10 a.m. and more importantly, it was just the start.
Next, we turned to our personal social networks. We started with a simple live stream on facebook. We were driving to pick up supplies from the businesses who donated and Jacob and I were in the car stuck in traffic that had slowed to a crawl. His phone in his hand and my phone in mine. Perfect, time for a live broadcast! We were both broadcasting live to our personal networks on Facebook and Instagram. We wanted to update everyone on the progress thus far and get the word out we were heading up to the Panama City area and a few thing's we needed to help make our impact grow. Meanwhile, we were holding our breath for an enterprise rental van to get all the supplies we were cultivating so in the live video and with no update from Enterprise by 2pm, we asked our network for help finding a large van more on that in a second, more water, wet wipes, and as much food as we could take with us. The response was overwhelming. Our personal friends started pouring in, no, flooding in with the donations. Between two live videos, we raised over $400 in 18 minutes of combined live screen time. We now knew we were on to something. This was working and our impact had already tripled from involving our community
Enter Jeff. Jeff Rousell saw our live video. Jeff Has a HUGE van. Jeff wanted to help. He had been planning to go up on his own but after seeing our post, figured we could band together. Now Jeff doesn’t have an enterprise sized van, no he has a massive van. A van that thanks to him, as of this writing (2 a.m. outside Gainesville, FL on our way up) has fit about an extra $1,000 dollars of goods, donated tents, coolers, clothes, food, water oh so much water, and all of our personal belongings with enough space to still make multiple more stops for goods as the donations came in.
Now we had a way up, we had supplies to bring, we coordinated a rendezvous and met at 6 p.m. to pack the van. Soon, we had all the supplies so far loaded and were on the road only thirty minutes past our desired departure time. A departure time coordinated only hours before, of a plan only coordinated the morning of, involving multiple businesses and over 20 community members, and given those variables, the fact we were only thirty minutes behind schedule meant we were doing great. We were eager to get up to the panhandle and were now on the road by 7 pm.
Once in the car, it was time for another live stream. Jacob and I returned to social media with another upload. This time, we were on the road and were excited to update the ones at home following along, the friends and family who shared our message, and the multitude of people helping us coordinate items needed, resources on the ground in the panhandle, and also contact information to get in touch with people behind the lines of the carnage. This time we were at a Walmart in Bushnell, Florida and moved around the store with an employee who was helping us grab things quickly. Armed with donations and the suggestions of people online, this time we bought hundreds of deodorants, toothbrushes, hand sanitizers, more wet wipes, some baby food, and more. The employees were unbelievably helpful and so Jacob could document the moment, we had a serious camera set up and microphones running.
In the Walmart, a couple overheard us sharing our mission and goods needed with the employee helping us. They asked the Walmart employee after we left “What was all that commotion about?”. When the employee shared what we were doing, they came walking up to us and said “We have 4 kids, we can’t go and help but we want to so badly. After Irma, we know what it is like to lose a lot. We will help you get more supplies". The interview below is with these two wonderful people and Jacob Kent.
It doesn't stop there. On our way out of the store with two carts filled with supplies, a gentleman called over to us asking "Going to the handle too? Be careful out there boys. It is a wild, wild, west out there right now." We went over to talk to the gentleman by the name of Danny as we would come to find out and learned his story. Danny has not heard from his daughter, son in law, or niece since the night prior to the storm making landfall.
Danny who was missing his family, asked us to share a post on his behalf
We stopped by another Walmart just now. It is now 4:30 am and we went to Walmart for the donations over the last hour or so. We bought a ton of food to make and cook breakfast for those affected by the storm. The latest updates on news is the death toll has now risen to 17. The realism of the damage is starting to set in and we all are aware and anxious of what lies ahead. We agree to cut a parking lot stretch break short to make better time on the road. We packed up our new breakfast groceries, first aid kits, rubbing alcohol, and latex gloves and got back on the road.
Upon leaving, Jeff wanted to top off the tank in the van. We drove for a bit and found a open gas station. As I approached the gas station, I noticed that the gentleman in front of me had a shirt that read “Zimmerman’s Lawn and Landscapes” with a 941 number on it. Knowing that was the local Sarasota area, I quickly asked him where he was going? He told me that him and his entire crew are headed up to Panama to remove downed limbs, clear roads, and uncover people’s houses. His crew quickly rotating 10 gallon gas can after gas can while he supervised, I asked if he had a moment for an interview. Below is the conversation that followed.
It is now 5:31 a.m., the car is quiet, we are all awake but not focused. This will be the closest we get to rest today. Jeff has been driving non-stop. With the amount of supplies, the truck is quite heavy and now is topping out around 80 m.p.h. with what we estimate to be between half and ¾ of a ton it is hauling. We draw closer on Tallahassee and expect to stop there to stretch, relax, and regroup our minds before doing the final stretch. Jacob has checked the GPS, from there it will be between 2 to 3 hours to the Panama City area with the additional stops to Walmarts. At this time, we are charging batteries for cameras, gimbals, battery backup packs, power banks, Osmo Mobile’s, and more. It is going to be a very long day ahead of us.
LIVE UPDATE 8:26 AM 10/13/2018: It is now 8:26 a.m., we are entering the Panhandle and are on our way to rendezvous with support resouces outside the disaster zone. We have coordinated behind the scene entry into the disaster area with our supplies and should have boots on the ground within the next hour. We will be updating you with video and blog updates right here and on Facebook as this continues to develop. We still have one more stop at a walmart supercenter so keep those donations pouring in and let's max this van out in space! On a personal note, we tooka hour and half long nap at a rest area to re -charge both out batteries and all the euiptment batteries we will be using throughout the day. Jacob and I stayed up most of the night while driving getting this live documentation up and edited video content of the journey so far.
LIVE UPDATE 9:08 AM 10/13/2018: Coming to you guys live with another video update from a Dunkin Doughnuts parking lot outside the western side of Tallahassee. We are trying to make one more stop at a Walmart and we need your help to make that run. Since this live video was published, we received another $50 dollars worth of donations. We have multiple people trying to find a way to donate for those not online and I want you to know we have heard you and are trying to find a way.
LIVE UPDATE 9:51 AM 10/13/2018: THE RESOURCE SCARCTY IS REAL. At this time, all of tallahassee is out of diesel, food, and water. The number of trucks coming through the area from power companies and tree crews is astonishing.
LIVE UPDATE 10:33 AM 10/13/2018:You guys are amazing! We just raised over $1000 during two 10 minute live streams. Between Jacob and myself, we challenged people to keep giving. The reaction was amazing. Not only this but over the course of you guy's donating during this live video, we reached a total of $1500 donated. This allowed us to get more supplies that were outside of the pric range before like baby formula, dog food, diapers (a ton of diapers), and some cat food. During the video, you guys kept sending more money so we kept running back and buying more diapers, more formula, and more feminine products. We also got a ton of tarps! We didnt even think of some of this stuff and afterwards, we were concerned as to how many we could buy and if it was the best use of donated funds economically... You guys made it so we can get the things people need and not only that but a ton of them! The signal keeps getting weaker so not sure how long we will be live for
LIVE UPDATE 12:37 PM 10/13/2018:You guys killed it! I mean for real, you just got us up to over $2300 donated! We have literally pretty much filled the truck. 5 carts worth of stuff in under an hour. The ladies at walmart self checkout looked at us like we were crazy! Jeff is killing it with a fast fix to the van! We will be back in business in the next few minutes and we will be moving to our rendevouz location with agencies on the ground to get in.
LIVE UPDATE 6:10 PM 10/13/2018:We are now set up outside of the ground zero area, where the eye passed over. We are right near the homeland security, border patrol, and Critical Response Unit HQ. Fema trucks have been pouring in and now, the waiting game begins to see when they get us inside and escorted.
LIVE UPDATE 10:22 AM 10/14/2018:We are now coming to you live from Panama City Beach area, live at Saint Dominic's Catholic Church, where we found a church that opened it's doors to all after the storm and its destruction. Father Luke helped us navigate our way there from the women's center and now that we are here, we got th supplies into the hands of the church and are now planning to help them disperse the supplies to the people pouring in at massive quantities. The church has been completely destroyed, the BBS center completely destroyed, the Clergy offices were destroyed. Truly in the face of utter destruction, these people have found their faith and the Pastors are holding mass upcoming in a little bit.
and a special thanks to Clinton Gardiner for coming to the rescue, macgyvering the van, and getting us home safely