[Tallahassee, Fla] In the week since Hurricane Michael slammed into the Florida Panhandle, the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association (FRLA) and its members have actively worked to provide for first responders, volunteers, evacuees and survivors of the record-setting storm. FRLA staff began organizing meals for first responders in Leon County before the storm hit, anticipating the needs of law enforcement, firefighters and other emergency personnel would be significant in the capital city. Once Hurricane Michael cleared Northwest Florida, member restaurants and hotels escalated their efforts. Within the span of one week, gave away more than 17,000 meals, provided emergency lodging to evacuees, survivors and first responders as well as donated critical items like bedding for shelters and supplies in the hardest-hit areas. This sort of response – quick and selfless – is a hallmark of Florida hospitality says the trade association’s CEO.
“One of the best qualities of those in the hospitality industry is their commitment to service and community, and this effort is a prime example of that,” said Carol Dover, CEO/President of FRLA. “Our members and staff truly have a heart and passion for service, and their generosity is being spread across the Panhandle in a variety of ways. Their actions are a wonderful testament to the power and spirit of hospitality.”
Members in Impacted Area Provide Relief to Others
The outpouring of resources has come from members representing every segment of the FRLA.. Even members in Bay County, one of the most devastated areas in Hurricane Michael’s path, stepped up, including Texas Roadhouse – Panama City Beach. Paul Schreiner, Partner for the Panama City Beach location, suffered minimal damage from Hurricane Michael and realized there was a critical need in some of Northwest Florida’s rural counties. Schreiner connected with FRLA to see how he could best assist, noting he had the ability to feed around 2,000 people. After coordinating with emergency operations centers in the Panhandle, FRLA directed Schreiner to Blountstown, located 40 miles inland and devastated by eyewall winds. Schreiner drove self-contained trucks to Blountstown along with Texas Roadhouse Pensacola’s Jeremy Behrens and Texas Roadhouse Tulsa Oklahoma’s Glen Haydel. The crew set up grills, tents and cooking stations as a line of hungry people formed in the parking lot of the small town’s Piggly Wiggly grocery store. In the span of approximately three hours, the Texas Roadhouse partners served 1,700 meals to survivors and first responders.
“I was fortunate to have sustained little damage at my place, and I have an amazing staff who want to help,” said Schreiner. “These folks here were hit really hard, and they have no power. Their homes are destroyed. If I can come in and give them a good, hot meal and some water, I’m going to do it. And [Texas Roadhouse] corporate could not be better. They keep asking, ‘What else do you need?’ We’re all in this together.”
Lodging Members Offer Resources in Addition to Rooms
FRLA lodging members have also stepped up to provide relief efforts to first responders, evacuees and survivors alike. Wyndham hotels donated 350 pillows, towels, sheets and blankets to one of the shelters in Panama City and also provided lodging to 13 Bay County law enforcement families who could not return to damaged/destroyed homes. Candlewood Suites in Tallahassee comped rooms for evacuees and housed nurses who traveled with their patients to Tallahassee after their Panama City hospital was damaged by the Category 4 hurricane.
In addition to coordinating meals and helping connect resources with needs, the FRLA staff has also focused on helping members recover by communicating critical information like re-entry requirements for evacuation zones, state and federal loan programs, business disaster recovery centers and reemployment assistance. As the trade association for the state’s largest industry, FRLA is invested in expediting disaster relief to get member businesses back up and running after storms and other catastrophes. FRLA has staff members working in the State Emergency Operations Center in conjunction with the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.