Clewiston coming to aid of Mexico Beach police

CLEWISTON — Supplies to help the families of first responders who lost their homes and many belongings in Hurricane Michael’s devastation of the Florida Panhandle last week will be collected over the next few days here for a run up to one of the hardest-hit communities.

At Monday night’s Clewiston City Commission meeting, Mayor Mali Gardner asked Commissioner Kristine Petersen, who teaches in the Clewiston High School Public Safety Academy, to tell what she knew about it. “Someone mentioned to me today, and I was just going to ask you since you’re here, about the impact of the hurricane on a police department in the Panhandle? If you could just share with the public more about that?”

Commissioner Petersen said: “The Mexico Beach Police Department was decimated. And every one of those officers who work at that department lost their homes, and they’re still at work. And their comment to (a news reporter) was, ‘We took an oath to serve and protect, and we are not going to leave just because things have gotten tough.’ So that resonated with my students. I was very glad that it did.

“We are collecting things for the officers,” she went on. “Personal items, wipes, water, energy bars, those kinds of things. They’ve gotten some used patrol cars from other agencies … and they’re setting up their homes, these guys and gals, in that patrol car, and they’re committed to staying.”

Ms. Petersen said she’d talked to Police Chief Aaron Angell and the CHS principal and that between them, they would put vehicles together with a trailer to get the collected supplies to the Mexico Beach officers. “The chief said they would use the trailer and get it up there this weekend, that he wasn’t going to be able to assign any employees to stay and help with that, but they would at least do that.

“So we’re accepting donations. I think it’s the right thing to do. We remember Wilma and we remember Irma, and two days in, those dry socks were very important. (The kids are collecting new underwear and socks, too.) So we’ve put it out on Facebook, we’ve put out some fliers of what we’re accepting, we will pack on Saturday morning and we will get all the items up there.

“The other thing I would like for you to do is, write a note,” she urged, her voice catching with emotion. “Do you remember the little notes that came and what a difference it made when you thought you didn’t have anything left in the gas tank and you thought nobody understood out there? So if you could put a little note in there of encouragement for those men and women, they’re going to share it with the fire department also. I think they will understand that we’re America’s sweetest town.”

The mayor said to her, “Your students are going to be doing the packing, but if anybody wants to volunteer, they can just get a hold of you?”

“Yes,” Ms. Petersen replied.

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