(WIAT) — As Floridians begin the cleanup process in Hurricane Irma’s wake, help is on the way from Alabama.
Birmingham’s Boutwell Auditorium has been the go-to spot for years, where locals drop off donations to be taken to disaster areas all over the country.
“Our people are just good people. They’re generous. They’re hardworking people,” said Don Lupo, the director of the Mayor’s Office of Citizens Assistance, who organizes every donation drive. “All of these other communities have helped us. We get struck by a tornado, we have flooding, whatever our problems are, everybody comes to our rescue. I think that’s part of the American spirit.”
But Tuesday evening, the area in front of the auditorium, which is usually obscured by mountains of donations during a drive, looked unusually sparse.
That’s because Lupo said help was already on the way to areas hit hardest by hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
“I think we’ve sent three trucks toward Florida, yesterday and today. We’re somewhere around 16 to18 trucks to Texas already, and trucks are still going,” Lupo said. “Just as fast as we can load trucks, we’re sending them in one direction or the other.”
Local businesses are also doing what they can to help.
Vestavia Bowl already sent a truckload of donations to the Boutwell and decided to extend their collection period through the rest of September in the wake of Hurricane Irma.
The Vestavia Hills bowling alley has gone through its share of hardship; its parking lot flooded after a rain storm in late July, to the point where cars floated away and employees had to dig their way out.
Vestavia Bowl also closed for two months about three years ago, after flood waters found their way inside.
“I mean, obviously we get to go home after and we don’t lose our homes from (the flooding),” said Angela Nance, the general manager at Vestavia Bowl. “It’s a mess and it’s hard to stay positive and push through it. We get it. We just want to help as much as possible.”
The storm damage also hit home for employees at Hop City in Birmingham, which is now collecting money, canned food, and water to send to Florida.
Angela Richter moved to Birmingham from Sarasota five years ago and works at Hop City.
“I’ve ridden out plenty of hurricanes, including Charley, and I’ve never evacuated. But when I saw this storm, I knew this was going to be very bad, and the biggest one we’ve ever seen,” Richter said. “It’s a lot of stress knowing that I have so much family down there.”
Richter’s relatives are OK, and she said the generosity of people in Birmingham makes her feel more at home in Alabama.
“People that don’t know my family at all have offered to help my family. They’ve offered to help collect supplies to send down there. It’s just amazing to me,” Richter said. “I’m really grateful to live in an area where people are so generous and helpful. I’ve always been really impressed since I moved up here five years ago, with how gracious people in the south are, and I know that that’s a big factor in all of this, and I think it’s awesome.”