For the fourth time, John Riesebeck of Smokin’ J’s Real Texas BBQ in Gulfport will be bringing non-perishable goods to those affected by Florida’s latest storm, Hurricane Michael.
Only this time, there’s another truck to fill.
For the first time, the city of Gulfport will also be leading a hurricane donation drive lead by Gulfport Mayor Sam Henderson. The city’s mission will be similar to Riesebeck’s, but the trucks are traveling independently and collecting separate donations.
Both Henderson and Riesebeck will leave in 26-foot rented vehicles and head north with truck-loads of donated goods.
“I have nothing to do with the city’s effort,” said Riesebeck, who expressed some concern about how long it would take to fill up both trucks simultaneously. “We’re tapping the same well here, asking the same people to donate.”
It was on Sunday, October 13 at the 5th Annual Mayors’ 49th Street Cleanup that Henderson announced that the city would drive supplies to Florida’s panhandle the next weekend.
According to Henderson, the destruction of Hurricane Michael reminded him of when his parents’ home was destroyed in 2017’s Hurricane Harvey along the Texas coast. He said he made the decision for the city of Gulfport to send a truck of supplies a day before his announcement.
“I thought of it on Friday. I wanted to do what John did for Hurricane Florence,” said Henderson, referencing Riesebeck’s charity efforts, which also include serving up hot BBQ meals to those in hard-hit areas. “It’s a nice thing to do for our neighbors to the north.”
According to City Manager Jim O’Reilly, the effort is being funded through general fund monies available to the city manager. There is a $20,000 spending limit that is used for basic city needs.
“We’re spending money in support of a relief effort. The city can do that at my discretion,” said O’Reilly.
The truck will cost $40 a day, and is rented for seven days, with the cost of gas to be determined.
So far, Henderson is the only confirmed city representative that will be making the trip.
“I haven’t assigned [any city employees] at this time,” said O’Reilly.
Henderson has said that along with Riesebeck’s efforts, the city’s truck, St. Petersburg College and Representative Kathleen Peters will all be working together to get as many resources to the people affected by this disaster as possible.
“If someone is close to full and is ready to go and they need some materials added, we’ll do that,” Henderson said at the Tuesday, October, 16 Gulfport City Council meeting. “If for some reason John wanted to go early, we could work that out.”
However, Riesebeck maintains that his efforts are separate from the mayor’s drive.
Gulfport’s Cultural Facilities Events Supervisor Justin Shea “called Friday and asked if I was doing one, he let the mayor know,” said Riesebeck. “I think this is sort of hindering what we can do.”
Riesebeck’s concerns stem from the fact that, just weeks after he collected a truck-load of supplies for Hurricane Florence, both he and the city are now asking the community for more donations, and both are leaving the same weekend. Riesebeck said it typically takes him at least a week to fill one truck.
This week, the city dismissed concerns that two trucks, plus additional collection efforts like those of St. Petersburg College and Representative Peters, might be asking too much of the community, too soon.
“I think anything that helps folks in the panhandle is a good thing,” said O’Reilly.
According to Henderson, the city’s truck is set to leave sometime on Friday, October 19 and head for the Mexico Beach area. The exact routes are not yet determined.
Riesebeck plans to head north at 4 a.m. on Monday, October 22. The restaurant owner plans to reach around 400 to 700 people.
In a Wednesday, October 17 interview with the WFLATV news Channel 8 crew, Riesebeck said that he will be bringing his commercial smoker to the Marianna area – about an hour and a half northeast of Panama City – to provide a hot BBQ lunch to the community.
“I’m looking in the Marianna area, communities small enough that we can make a larger impact,” Riesebeck said.
The city will be collecting non-perishables, water and supplies at the Gulfport City Hall, located at 2401 53rd Street South. The Smokin’ J’s truck will be on site of the restaurant at 5145 Gulfport Boulevard South.
“Let’s truck up some love to the panhandle,” said Henderson.