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Coalition continues disaster relief efforts in Immokalee

Posted at 10:48 PM, Sep 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-16 22:48:04-04

IMMOKALEE, Fla. — The Immokalee Unmet Needs Coalition (IUNC) is continuing its efforts to help Immokalee get through disasters.

IUNC was formed shortly after Hurricane Irma ripped through Immokalee in 2017.

"It's all about education, preparedness, response, and recovery," said Lisa Loren, Longterm Recovery Coordinator for IUNC.

After witnessing the vast devastation left behind by the hurricane, community leaders realized the need for a long-term recovery group.

With the guidance of FEMA, the group formed the coalition to identify needs within the community and take a hands-on approach to solve those needs.

"We rebuilt five homes from the ground up that were totally destroyed, and we probably helped another 40 homes in major repairs," said Loren.

The coalition worked with various partners in the community, such as Rural Neighborhoods, Immokalee Community Redevelopment Agency, and the Collier Comes Together Disaster Relief to fund the home construction projects.

Volunteers from Mennonite Disaster Service in the Midwest and Habitat for Humanity of Collier County helped with the construction.

The coalition itself is compiled of leaders from various agencies, organizations, and local governments.

"As a team, we were able to do so much more, reach so many more people work hand in hand with Collier County Government and the Emergency Operations Center," said Loren.

While the group continues to work on home repairs caused by Hurricane Irma, they are also working to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 in Immokalee.

Frank Rincon is the director of the Benison Center and is also a board member of the coalition.

Since early on in the pandemic, the Benison Center has been distributing free boxes of food in Immokalee and surrounding communities.

"We've seen the need grow, our lines are a lot longer," said Rincon.

Those boxes are part of the USDA Farmers to Families food box program.

The center's current distribution site is at the Lipman Family Farms in Immokalee, and it runs every Tuesday and Thursday.

Rincon says over the past several months, they've distributed boxes to thousands of families, but none of this would be possible without the students from the Guadalupe Center.

"Without them, we could not so this, this would have stopped a long time ago if it wasn't for the Guadalupe Center," said Rincon.

The director of the Guadalupe Center, Dawn Montecalvo, is also the chair for IUNC.

To help with providing more COVID-19 education to the community, IUNC is working alongside the Healthcare Network.

On Tuesday, members of the Healthcare Network COVID Education Team handed out flyers in various languages to cars waiting in line at the Benison Center's food distribution site.

"We want to get ahead of it, we want to do a lot of education to make people feel comfortable with what they can do to prevent COVID," said Julie Pedretti, Community Relations Director for COVID-19, Healthcare Network.

The goal is to prevent a resurgence of COVID-19 cases as farmworkers return for fall harvest.

"This community is vibrant, it's an amazing, hardworking community… but there is a need, and we want to make sure that need is met, no matter what it might entail," said Loren.