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A Bigger Heart

Area's spirit of rebirth spurs relief efforts

Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan and team president Mark Lamping know what this city is made of.

As he announced a $1 million donation from the Jaguars to the Florida First Coast Relief Fund to assist those affected by Hurricane Irma, Lamping told the assembled crowd about the discussion he had with Khan a couple of days before.

"Shad reminded me that Jacksonville so often gets labeled a small market, but he believes it has a bigger heart than any community he's been a part of," Lamping said. "We agree with the Mayor [Lenny Curry] that Jacksonville will come back better than ever, and we want to be able to help however we can."

American Red Cross volunteers deliver a pallet of buckets filled with cleaning supplies to the residents of Ken Knight Drive on Sept. 22. The Red Cross showed up in force with water and food in addition to the cleaning supplies. Residents of Ken Knight Drive on Jacksonville's Northside were hit particularly hard by Hurricane Irma's storm surge which brought waters from the nearby Ribault River into their homes. (Bob Self/Florida Times-Union)

They could not have made a better choice or shown more confidence in the heart of the city than to add $1 million to the local relief fund, which was founded a little more than a year ago to address disasters such as — but not limited to — hurricanes and natural disasters.

"After the Pulse nightclub tragedy, we learned so much," said Nina Waters, president of the Community Foundation for Northeast Florida. "We [in the philanthropic community] decided not to wait for something to happen here, but to establish a fund that all philanthropies would be involved in and all donated money would flow into. Then, if the worst happened, we would be ready."

The fund was set up with four main partners: United Way of Northeast Florida, United Way of St. Johns County, Community Foundation for Northeast Florida and the Jewish Community Alliance of Jacksonville, with primary oversight by Michelle Braun, president and CEO of United Way of Northeast Florida.

"The focus was to be on making grants to fill both short- and long-term needs," Water said. "The Fund was activated for the first time just about a year ago after Hurricane Matthew, when it offered $1 million in relief to the community. It has now been activated for the second time for Hurricane Irma relief and, within a week, had donations of $4 million, with more coming. The Jessie Ball DuPont Foundation was the first to give after both hurricanes with $500,000 for each. The Jaguars Foundation and Mayo Clinic also both jumped in with true generosity."

All organizations involved are donating their staff time, so the fund has no administrative costs at all.

The Salvation Army is one of the many organizations working with the Hurricane Irma relief fund in the region.

Its response to this — or any other — disaster is three-fold. The immediate response is to offer food, hydration, emotional and spiritual care to both survivors and first-responders. After the initial effort, the Salvation Army's later response includes emergency assistance to survivors and donations management. And finally, long-term assistance in recovery efforts is offered when need and resources warrant it.

"So far, in the wake of Hurricane Irma, we have served 46,558 meals, drinks and snack just in Northeast Florida; statewide, the Salvation Army has provided more than half a million," said Major Bert Tanner, area commander for Salvation Army of Northeast Florida. "We're extremely appreciative that the Relief Fund is providing funds for so many organizations like ours to distribute where they are needed most. We'll continue to explore where they can be best used."

Jacksonville has long been known as a city that comes together in the face of adversity or in the pursuit of a common goal. Hurricane Irma has been both — a natural disaster affecting all residents and a goal of helping all those residents. Mayor Curry said that "Jacksonville is on the way back," and that is because of the strength and generosity of its people.

"We're really encouraging fans who want to get behind this spirit of rebirth to ... begin to celebrate the great work that's been done," Lamping said. "But also to celebrate the great promise that this community offers."