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Sanibel and Captiva community helping the Bahama islands

By Staff | Sep 6, 2019

The Southwest Florida community has joined efforts to collect goods for the Bahamas following the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, which decimated the Abaco and Grand Bahama islands as a Category 5 hurricane with 185 mph winds.

What began as a collection site for Chef Brian Roland, founder of Crave Culinaire in Naples, turned into a much larger relief for the Bahamas as the week went on for Stilwell Enterprises and Restaurant Group Owner Sandy Stilwell.

“He said he wanted to do something, so I offered to be the Lee County pickup (site),” she said. “Stokes Marine, he is building my dock right now, he offered to do more of the building material pickup. We could join together as a massive pick up, drop off area.”

The community continued to come together as Normal Love joined the force as another drop off location on Daniels Parkway. The Collier County Sheriff’s Office also became a drop off location for Collier.

“We are all working together on the same mission,” Stilwell said. “What we have done so far is amazing. We have many planes already loaded up and sent out already.”

Goods were divided up and separated into bags.

So far, Stilwell said three box trucks full of goods have been sent to the Bahamas. Items sent have included generators, tents, pop-up tents, charcoal and Sterno camping stoves.

“One of the fraternities at FGCU bought tents,” Stilwell said, adding that there are no structures in hardest hit areas of the islands. “Beach tent 10×10 pop ups, we really need those. There is not a leaf on the trees.”

Some people have given cash to Stilwell, which have gone towards many buying trips to Sam’s, Costco and the Dollar Tree for supplies. She said taking $1,000 to the Dollar Tree gives her with the ability to buy a lot of items.

Stilwell purchased cases out of their stockroom for things like peroxide and toothpaste.

There is still a need for more cooking supplies, such as non-electric turkey fryers because water can be boiled in the fryer, which also can be used for soups and stews. More Sterno stoves, as well as already prepared food such as pasta and rice, nonperishable food, granola bars, water and boxed milk are also needed.

Other items include bug repellent, can openers, coolers, umbrella chairs and sleeping bags.

Stilwell said if anyone has tents at home, or sleeping bags they are not using and can spare them, they will take them as well.

With the cut off of collecting supplies originally targeted for Sept. 6, Stilwell said she began growing concerned and so she will continue to collect supplies until next Friday, Sept. 13, if not longer.

“We might extend it longer than that,” she said.

Her office is at 16876 McGregor Blvd, Suite 101, behind the Sanibel Outlet stores. The office is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Over Easy Cafe, 630 Tarpon Bay Road on Sanibel, also is accepting donations for the Bahamas through Friday.

“It’s so wonderful to have her helping, too,” Stilwell said of the owner, adding that they also contributed pet supplies.

In addition to planes flying supplies to the Bahamas, Stilwell said two members of her crew were to leave Friday, Sept. 6, on a 100-foot boat. She said boats were also volunteered in Fort Lauderdale to head to the Bahamas in the flotilla.

Stilwell said she became concerned that they would get turned away when arriving, so she reached out to the Bahamian government agencies to ensure the goods would be accepted. She said she has been working with the tourism department and has been receiving voice messages that she has forwarded to boat captains and pilots who are taking the supplies over.

“The tourism director said they do not have food,” Stilwell said.

Also identified was where the supplies are needed the most.

“I have the latest update of which island has the right away and which island can accept a boat and which island can have people there to help with distribution when we arrive. We want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem,” she said. “There are islands that are hungry and need water right now. People are so remote they are almost forgotten. We are directing some planes to go there.”

In addition to providing supplies, she said her husband is taking 12 Bahamians in to work at Bay Front Inn in Naples. She said her husband had to go through the proper channels to house them and provide them with jobs.

Another box truck is scheduled to leave Monday, Sept. 9, to Fort Lauderdale to stock boats to head to the Bahamas. Stilwell said she welcomes anyone who has a boat to join the flotilla.

“If someone has a boat, but doesn’t want to take it out after a hurricane, there are captains. You have to have the range, boat and gas to get over there because there is no gas,” she said.

Stilwell said the outpouring of support has been great with people on Sanibel and Captiva sharing a desire to adopt a town in the Bahamas to further offer support.

“A couple of people have suggested that. I think that is a great idea for ongoing support,” she said, adding that one of the destinations was Green Turtle Cay.