Special Reports

Woman gathers supplies for tornado victims

A Palmetto woman who heard about the deadly tornadoes that struck central Florida last week decided she needed to help. Amy Sheppard, 41, called on longtime friends and the contacts she has developed over the years working for Dana Site Development and Paving Inc.,and planned three weekend trips to deliver much-needed supplies to churches and relief agencies responding to the disaster. She will be accompanied by her sister, Theresa Stade, of the Alachua County town of Hawthorne.

Sheppard, a Palmetto native, says her initial concern was for Stade's safety.

"When we heard it went through, we thought it might have hit my sister," Sheppard said. "They were driving back from Fort Myers and saw the destruction and called me.

"She said it was unbelievable," Sheppard continued. "She said, 'What do you think we should do?' I just decided to start asking people what we can do to help. She's talked with churches up there. They are organized to handle this. They and the Red Cross can take some of what I bring. We also hope to locate (victims) off the beaten path."

Among other donations, Sheppard says she has received: water, copies of the New Testament from the Manatee Southern Baptist Association; gloves, safety glasses and other cleanup material from SPI Safety Inc., of Lakeland; children's toys and American flags from Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2488, of Palmetto; water, blankets and refreshments from a Miller beer distributor; automotive cleaning materials from Northside Auto Parts/Carquest; coverall clothing, rugs and mats from UniFirst Corp.; and chain saws from ASAP Rental Equipment & Sales.

For the businesses, the decision to help was easy. "You are concerned about people in other areas, what happened to them. This is like during the hurricanes," Northside owner Tom Roland said. "It's important to help people get the things they need to get back on their feet."

UniFirst sales representative Brandi Alexander agreed. "We know it's a tragedy. We wanted to do everything we can," she said.

Some of the initial supplies have already been shipped to Hawthorne. Sheppard plans to take the remainder when she drives up early Saturday morning in a cargo van loaned by Enterprise Rent-A-Car.

Sheppard says she has all the supplies she can carry for her initial trip, except gift cards (Wal-Mart, gasoline) or phone cards for storm victims, which she says people can still donate. After this weekend, she will determine which supplies to deliver on subsequent trips.

"Organizations usually ask for financial donations in these situations, which is good," she said. "But a lot of people don't have money to give."

Most of her contacts have been helpful, Sheppard says, although some appeared to have compassion fatigue after donating supplies for victims of several hurricanes over the past three years.

"Others are identifying with the fact that it happened in Florida and it could have been us," she said. Meanwhile, Sheppard says she's only been able to coordinate the trip because her co-workers "are wonderful and have helped me pick up my slack.

"There's nothing in this for me," she added. "I've had people help me in the past. I'm just trying to give back." Anyone who would like to donate items to Sheppard should call (941) 527-9722 or e-mail floridafishlips@verizon.net.