They stepped up when they saw a need.
“The heart and soul of this community is working together,” said Michael J. Yakes, the namesake of a Gulfport based non-profit foundation. He is also the former longtime mayor of Gulfport and is affectionately known to many as “Mayor Mike.”
In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma that rolled through the Tampa Bay area from Sunday, September 10 to Monday, September 11, 2017 with wind gusts officially measured by the National Hurricane Center at 96 mph, thousands of people were left without electrical power beginning on Sunday night. The power remained off for many people for several days – some for about a week. It was long enough for food in refrigerators and freezers to go bad.
“I got notification via email that they were doing something like this in Brandon – restocking refrigerators so people would have something immediately to eat,” said Maddy Guenther, a Gulfport native and business owner who incorporated the Michael J. Yakes Foundation or MY Foundation on October 21, 2013. “I knew if they were doing it and it already worked, it would be something feasible for us.”
The following food items were acquired: bread, peanut butter, jelly, milk, sandwich meat, eggs and cheese. And, they started distribution on Saturday, 16 at the Gulfport Senior Center finishing on Monday, September 18. The center was closed on Sunday.
“We had about 10 volunteers,” said Yakes, who serves as the president of the foundation.
They got the word out because Guenther started a Facebook campaign and it spread from there by word of mouth, she said.
The foundation’s primary mission is to serve underprivileged children and seniors in Gulfport.
During the aftermath of Irma, “we didn’t really screen them or anything,” said Guenther. “People just came in with an ID and the Senior Center’s staff and volunteers signed them in, which was very cool.”
What impressed Yakes was, “There was no greed. I was just so pleased with the respect that was shown by the people who where here.”
The foundation gave food to about 200 people who represented many more that were helped like grandchildren and other family members.
During the year, the foundation partners with groups like the Gulfport Police Department and the Boca Ciega Center, a local assisted-living facility, to provide Christmas holiday gifts for children and seniors. Over the years, the foundation has also donated money directly to Operation Santa and has teamed up with the local Lion’s Club or Pasadena Community Church to reach Gulfport people in need.
By knowing their neighbors, board members also assist people with utility bills or after a fire when a family needed extended housing in a hotel.
One of their goals in the immediate future is to work more closely with the administration of Gulfport Elementary School to ensure that children in need receive lunches on weekends and when school is not in session.
Yakes, Guenther and her husband, Joe, currently serve as the foundation’s the three directors.
They are looking for more people to serve on the board, to be volunteers or to partner with them as business people who can get things done. To learn more about opportunities, visit their Web page at: mygulfportfoundation.org, email: email@example.com or call Yakes at: 727-600-6645.
The foundation is separate from the city-run Michael J. Yakes Recreation Complex, though they often partner with them to help children.
“What’s so wonderful about our foundation and the hard work and the fund raising is that we are mightier and more caring than we are financially strong,” said Yakes. “Every time there is an event, everybody works hard and it’s distributed to the people that need it.”
In the past week, a donor went to the foundation’s website and contributed $3,000 through PayPal.
The food distribution event in the days following Irma was the first time the foundation had ever helped the Gulfport community after a natural disaster.
“And, we pray that this is the last!” said Yakes.