The day after Hurricane Michael hit the Florida Panhandle, Robbie Comelek and his wife were watching the news when they got their first sense of how devastating the storm had been. Without hesitation, they packed up and headed out – looking for people who needed help, and assessing what was needed and where. They carried a pallet of water with them to hand out to anyone they could. From what they had seen just on TV, they knew it wouldn’t be a fast recovery.
The Comeleks had friends and family in the Panama City area, and Robbie had grown up and spent time there since the 80s. they were blown away by what they saw as they entered the affected area.
“I’ve been through every major storm that’s hit the gulf coast since the 80s,” began Robbie. “I’ve walked in the eye of Opal, I’ve seen the damage of Ivan and Katrina, and I’ve never seen anything as broad-scale as this was. So I knew right then, I had to do more. One of the things I’ve realized while helping out with this storm is just how much chaos there is. It’s a wild, wild west for volunteers out there. I didn’t know how to help.”
Robbie filled out the Cajun Navy Foundation volunteer form on CrowdRelief.net. As he eagerly awaited the completion of the vetting process, he reached out to CNF Social Media Volunteer Gloria Godwin. She put him in contact with the right people, and Robbie said that from there, everyone he has worked with has been amazing at connecting people.
“it has been just a flood of contact and information. We have been doing and giving whatever we can. The first few days I was kind of on my own, and then I found out that Billie over in Wewahitchka needed supplies so I took a major load. My truck was loaded down, and it probably lifted a good six inches once we unloaded the bed of the truck in Wewa. Billie was really ecstatic because it was the first major drop we made in Wewa, ” said Robbie.
The Saturday after the storm, Robbie and some others took seven vehicles, full of supplies and crew members, and went to town helping whoever they could. They cut out driveways, did wellness checks and helped people get to their houses in hard to reach areas. He began working with Billie to get supplies out to her team. Then Robbie started his own fundraiser to help fund supplies and equipment wherever there were needs.
Noticing that volunteers were lacking in other areas, Robbie talked with Billie and worked out a plan. This past weekend, he and other volunteers moved into adjacent areas so they could cover more ground. As bad as Wewahitchka needed help, they realized that everybody needed help.
“The hardest thing to get people in this situation to understand is that it was this bad everywhere. Everybody was hit hard, like Fountain, Youngstown, and the Bayou George areas. There are people out there helping, but not enough,” said Robbie.
Robbie and his team set up in the heart of Bayou George Saturday to hand out food and supplies. Since they had no power yet, they could only get the word out by putting up a sign and by word of mouth. At first they had only a few locals straggle in, but once they went back and told their neighbors, a flood of people came for supplies.
“The biggest thing we need is people. We need boots on the ground.,” said Robbie. “There are supplies that we can’t get out because there aren’t enough volunteers. People are starting to forget what has happened. Just because the power is on doesn’t mean the people have a house to go back to. The rebuild stage is going to be the most challenging piece of this.”
Reflecting on the whole experience, Robbie said, “Do you ever feel like God put you in a place and you know you’re supposed to be there? It’s been happening from day one. I’ve been connecting with people, and it’s just been transitioning so smoothly that I know without a doubt that He put me here to help – and that’s what I’ve been doing.”
Robbie would like to thank the many volunteers he has been working with to help the people in the affected areas, including: Gloria Godwin, Sandy Reeves, Spring Shahnewaz, Billie Dase’s team, Melissa Comelek, Brandon and Hannah Nelson, Grant Wilson (Van Go Outdoor Custom Vans), Brad Masters, Blake Ponyer, Suzuki Stewart, Dave Merriman, Stephanie Noble, Yvonne and Chris Wujcik, Brent Shavnore, Todd Kocher, Caleb Kocher, Neil Emiro, Keyshawn Harris, Kyle Campbell, Shane Braneff (We Care Heating and Air), and several of his employees and family, several members from the MOPAR Unaffiliates Gulf Coast Chapter and countless locals that have donated both supplies and money to the cause.
To become a Cajun Navy Foundation volunteer, visit CrowdRelief.net.