Local Efforts Return from Hurricane Relief 

John Riesebeck, left, owner of Smokin’ J’s Real Texas BBQ drops off a pallet of bottled water to Mayor Sam Henderson, and the city of Gulfport’s 26-foot hurricane relief truck just before departure. Facebook photo by the City of Gulfport.

Last week, both John Riesebeck of Smokin’ J’s Real Texas BBQ in Gulfport and Gulfport Mayor Sam Henderson headed to the destruction in north Florida following Hurricane Michael. 

“It was thousands of people,” Riesebeck said. “We really made a huge impact – the people could not believe their eyes.”

Both left in 26-foot rented trucks, loaded with supplies donated by the local community. Both reported helping a large number of hurricane victims. 

“It was really hard,” said Henderson after seeing the destruction caused by Michael, which came ashore near Mexico Beach on October 10 as the most powerful hurricane ever to hit the Florida Panhandle. “That could have been us if the wind blew a different way.” 

Riesebeck’s Return 

For the fourth time in recent years, Riesebeck trucked supplies and hot meals to small communities in need of hurricane relief. Riesebeck and his wife, Lisa, rode up with a friend, Shawn Gilmer. 

“Lisa drove up, helped make meals,” Riesebeck said. “Thought I’d give her some kudos because I don’t like sleeping outside.”

According to Riesebeck, his relief drive will be a continuous effort for as long as possible. 

“I always go with John,” said Gilmer, Riesebeck’s former employee. “It was really amazing this time, does your heart good.” 

The three drove up on Sunday, October 21 and returned on Tuesday, October 23. 

“The truck was way over full,” Riesebeck said. “We rented another pickup.”

Their destination? 

Grand Ridge, a small, rural town in the panhandle. 

“The people in Gulfport are pretty funny, because they donated dog diapers,” Riesebeck said. “The people out in the country don’t really have that.” 

This year, the hurricane drive had an online reach of about 20,000 Facebook users, according to Riesebeck. A Facebook video, posted on October 22 by Riesebeck on the Smokin’ J’s Real Texas BBQ Facebook page, features the lines and supplies following their arrival in Grand Ridge. 

The post currently has about 4,100 views and 42 shares. 

“Everyone seems to be in decent spirits,” Riesebeck says in the video. 

A second video that was also posted on October 22 features Riesebeck unloading his 26-foot-long truck. The second video received about 2,700 views and 40 shares. 

“I think the post builds credibility,” Riesebeck said. “This is our fourth [hurricane relief drive], but people are always skeptical of where they’re going to donate to.” 

Smokin’ J’s crew with stuffed 26-foot hurricane relief truck just hours before departure on Sunday, Oct. 21. John Riesebeck, center, owner of Smokin’ J’s Real Texas BBQ, is the driver. This is his 4th relief truck. Photo by Debbie Wolfe.

The Mayor of Gulfport and Tucker 

Late Friday, October 19, Henderson and his dog, Tucker, made the trek up north to distribute supplies with the cities of Wewahitchka, Dalkeith, Port St. Joe and Mexico Beach. 

“People really came together on this, both here and on the road,” Henderson said. “I met people as far away as Tennessee delivering to the panhandle.” 

The entire trip cost near $800 and was funded through general fund monies available to the city manager, Jim O’Reilly. The spending limit for the fund is $20,000. 

“It did work out kind of funny because we had to pay an extra 52 cents for the extra mile,” Henderson said. “We went one mile over 850 miles, so the separate transaction was 52 cents.” 

Prior to Riesebeck’s and Henderson’s departure from Gulfport, some expressed concern that it would be difficult for the community to fill both trucks quickly enough for those in need. 

However, locals, some of whom had already donated to Riesebeck’s recent relief effort for Hurricane Florence, heeded the call. Both Henderson and Riesebeck also donated supplies to the other’s effort. 

“John ended up giving me some supplies,” Henderson said. “There was a lot on social media about competition and I was thrown off.” 

Henderson says he also plans to continue to help hurricane relief efforts if needed. 

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