As a fifth generation Floridian, I’ve always felt blessed to call Florida home, a place that people from all over the world dream of one day visiting or living. As Hurricane Irma made landfall in September, my gratitude for living in this great state only deepened. One after another, moving stories about Floridians selflessly, courageously and generously helping one another emerged in the face of adversity.
No part of Florida was spared from the effects of Hurricane Irma, and across the state, people stepped up to help one another and show appreciation to those who kept us safe and helped us rebuild. One man gave the last generator in a store to a woman who needed it to keep her father’s oxygen supply working. People opened their homes to fellow Floridians who had to evacuate. First responders secured their own homes and families and then left to be stationed and ready to assist others in the aftermath of the storm. Two airmen with the Air National Guard were married in their fatigues because they were deployed indefinitely.
After the storm was no different. Neighbors helped neighbors saw trees off their houses. Sister Margaret Ann, aka “Chainsaw Nun,” grabbed a chainsaw to help clear a road. Strangers from other states and as far away as Canada poured in to restore power. First responders risked their own safety to rescue others. A third-grader held a book drive and collected more than 1,000 books for children in the Keys.
In addition to being generous and brave, Floridians are thankful. A Lakeland woman and gator trapper pulled together friends to serve gator tail to nearly 100 linemen who had been working tirelessly to restore power. Dozens lined up at the Sebring Raceway to gather linemen’s clothes so they could wash and return them. My own Bartow neighbors hosted meals for out-of-state workers for days. A police officer in Punta Gorda received a new roof at no charge in appreciation for her selfless service.
These are only a few of the many stories that show Floridians’ true spirit. We’re all reminded that the things we’re most thankful for aren’t things at all. We’re grateful for the friendship of neighbors and the service of strangers. We appreciate more deeply the first responders who took care of us, even as they were also victims. We’ve seen heartfelt gratitude for the simple offer of water to an out-of-state lineman, and we’ve rediscovered the simple fellowship of the neighborhood potluck dinner where everyone cleans out their powerless freezers.
As we gather around our Thanksgiving tables, may we all be grateful for Florida’s farmers and ranchers who labor year-round to provide us with an abundance of food. And may we also be grateful to live in a state where Floridians look out for one another when it matters most.
Adam H. Putnam is the Florida commissioner of agriculture.
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