Two Local Efforts Truck Supplies to Panhandle

The city of Gulfport is sponsoring a 26-foot rented truck that will contain donated relief supplies for the victims of Hurricane Michael in the Florida panhandle area. During the week of Monday, October 15 through about Friday morning, October 19, people can drop off non-perishable food for humans and pets, bottled drinking water, hygiene and first-aid supplies along with batteries and flashlights during business hours. Call the city at 727-893-1000 for more information. Photo by Debbie Wolfe.

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. 

On Wednesday, October 17, John Riesebeck, owner of Smokin’ J’s Real Texas BBQ in Gulfport was interviewed by reporter Jamel Lanee of WFLA-TV news Channel 8 regarding his relief effort for survivors of Hurricane Micheal in Florida’s panhandle area. It’s Riesebeck’s fourth time renting a truck for hurricane relief efforts, this time with a 26-footer, that he also uses to pull his commercial smoker so he can provide a hot BBQ meal cooked on site to hundreds. He inspires people from Gulfport and surrounding communities to donate items like non-perishable, ready-to-eat food for humans and pets, bottled water, hygiene and first aid supplies along with flashlights and batteries. He’s planning on leaving at 4 a.m. Monday, October 22 to head north “in time to have lunch ready for people located near Marianna,” he said. That would allow him enough time to be back in Gulfport by Tuesday so he can have the smoker in place to run his business. “I’m in contact with officials from the Emergency Operations Center in the panhandle,” said Riesebeck. “I’ll be going to a small city that hasn’t been helped yet by groups like the Red Cross or Salvation Army.” Local people have contacted Riesebeck about driving up with him in their own vehicles. If that happens, Riesebeck said that once he parks the rental truck and his commercial smoker trailer in an area that can accommodate a vehicle the size of a semi, the smaller vehicles can be used to take specific relief supplies to people in more remote areas that don’t have transportation at this time. Photo by Debbie Wolfe.

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. 

Betty Pearson of Gulfport said she usually donates either money or supplies because living in Florida means that any one of us could easily be living in the aftermath of a hurricane. This time, “I tried to get some different stuff that people don’t always think to pack in their hurricane” kit, she said. She shopped for boxed milk that doesn’t need refrigeration and cans of foods that are high in protean, like tuna and pork ‘n’ beans, that have pull tops so people won’t need to have can openers. “But, I did buy three can openers too,” she said. Photo by Debbie Wolfe.



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