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When GMA Came to Town

It’s Sunday morning, and as I’m sitting here enjoying the quiet and my hot chocolate, I’m also beginning to contemplate on tomorrow – the start of our first full week back to school.

The three days we were back before Thanksgiving Break were short, intense, and emotional.  It was probably a good thing we didn’t have to attend five days, because I don’t know if our hearts could have taken so much so soon.

Before I jump into the week ahead of me, I want to take a few minutes to reflect on the week that’s just ended.  Also, this post is long.  Please bear with me and read to the end.  I promise that you won’t regret it.

The week was one that was filled with incredible high points.  Probably one of the most memorable was when Good Morning America came to town.

Yes, that’s right.  Good Morning America.  As in the national morning show that’s on ABC.

You see, it all started with an idea that started with one man (or was it two?) and quickly escalated into one that involved hundreds of people.

If you’re new to my blog, let me just give you the short of things to bring you up to speed.

I am a teacher, and I live in Lynn Haven, Florida.  On October 10th, Hurricane Michael hit my beautiful corner of the world.  Officially, it was a Category 4 storm, but everyone knows that the winds far exceeded the 2mph difference from it being bumped up to a Cat 5.

Mexico Beach and Tyndall Air Force Base were leveled.  Surrounding cities such as mine were left nearly completely devastated.  Every home and business was damaged, many to the extent that they are unusable.

As the days and weeks go by, I’ll be sharing more of my own pictures.  Because we went six weeks without cable or internet and had little to no cell phone service, I’ve been slow to get caught up.  I will, though, because you guys need to see what I and others have been living with.

Nearly all of the schools in my county were damaged, and many of them, including mine, have been closed for repairs.  Every high school is sharing space with another school.  My school, Bay High, is conducting class at one of our feeder middle schools, Jinks.  It’s the school that had its gym completely gutted during the storm.  High school students are attending class from 7-12, and middle school students attend from 1-6.

Anyhow, fast forward to the past couple of weeks.

Here’s a three-minute video that explains how this came about.

The staff started receiving emails about this exciting event, and we began sharing the news with our kids.  Donations began pouring in as companies partnered with Greg and Mr. Smith, Jinks’s principal.  Ernie Hall, from Just the Cook, also jumped in.  Volunteers were requested.  Invitations were sent home with students.

The local media picked up the story, and before I knew it, I heard that Good Morning America would also be covering it.

This was music to our ears.  You see, although we’ve had groups coming in to help our area, the news of the devastation and recovery had faded from the news outside of our locale.  We didn’t want to be forgotten about.  There were (and are) so many, many hurting people who need a lot of help still.

A plethora of students, teachers and office staff, parents, and others in the community not necessarily affiliated with the school answered the call for help.  I met a couple who were Snowbirds.  They were staying at the beach, had heard about what we were doing, and came over to help.  They were so nice!

Preparations began in earnest last weekend.  Trucks of supplies needed to be unloaded so that the kitchen and a pantry could be stocked.  Y’all, the pantry was for diners to shop in, for free, so that they’d have food to carry home and prepare.  Greg and company had thought of everything!

Last Monday, after I did my own grocery shopping for the meal I would prepare my family, I went to the school.  It was a buzz of activity.  There were many people in the kitchen cooking up turkeys and dressing.  There were people sitting in the cafeteria pulling turkey off of bones.

I wound up filling up baggies of ingredients needed to bake cookies.  Have you ever heard of cookies in a jar?  Well, think of this as cookies in a bag.

The Nestle Corporation had donated at least a truck (maybe more) of baking supplies.

The plan was to have volunteers take home bags of cookie mix to bake and return.  Each baggy made four dozen.

While we waited for more brown sugar to arrive, I counted how many bags, at that point, were left.  It was over a hundred.  I figure in total, there must have been a couple hundred of them.  I posted a request for assistance in my homeowners group on Facebook, and one gal answered!  I took four bags to her house and took four of them for myself.

With all of that baking ahead of me, I decided to pamper myself first and had my nails done – a treat since I hadn’t gotten all prettied up since September, before the storm hit.

Funny (and awkward) story here.  I didn’t know, while I was getting pampered, that I was sitting next to (and then across from as my nails dried) Greg’s daughter.  I mean, I suspected it was her, but I wasn’t sure.  I taught her two years ago when she was in the ninth grade, but the girl sitting in front of me looked a little more mature.  I found out the next day that it had been her.  Sheesh.  I’ll just chalk that one up to hurricane brain.  It’s a thing, don’t you know.

The Mr. and I ran out for dinner since I hadn’t been home all day to cook.  Did you know that TGI Friday’s has a vegan burger that looks and tastes like the real thing?  It wasn’t to my liking, but the Mr., a carnivore, said he’d eat it.

When we got home, we picked up my neighbor’s cookies (how she did them so fast, I have no idea).  Then, I got to work.

I’d tried to queue up the finale of Dancing With the Stars, but I got upset when my DVR had missed the first half hour.  I called Super Sis in tears.

Can I just interrupt my post for a second to tell you something very real?

Although we are nearly seven weeks post-hurricane, we are not okay.  We try to be strong, and for the most part, we succeed, but we are emotional wrecks sometimes.  It is the most random of things that make us cry.  It feels like we are menopausal – ALL THE TIME.

Super Sis was wonderful and talked me through my moment of crisis.  She told me that she understood that I liked to be in control and that nothing is in my control anymore.  The fact that my cable and cell phone service STILL go out without any rhyme or reason throws me into a tizzy, and it’s okay.

So, I had my meltdown, turned off the TV, and proceeded to bake cookies.

And bake.

And bake.

Do you know how long it takes to bake sixteen dozen cookies?  Four hours.  I kid you not.

I decided, on the spot, that there would be no cookies for my own crew.  It was a good thing I’d planned on baking pies and cakes!!

I watched the DWTS finale after I finished baking, minus the first thirty minutes, and headed to bed.

Tuesday morning loomed early, and I waited for my friend, Ciara, to get to my house.  She and I taught together eight years ago.  It was my first year at Bay High (my second year teaching – her first).  She’d read about the event on Facebook and wanted to help.  Of course, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t experience a snafu or two.

Untitled

My Vitamix exploded when I tried to make hot chocolate.  Note to self:  use a bigger container.

I wasn’t going to be deterred, so I cleaned it up and made another batch.

Untitled

Then, I was ready to go.

Y’all, when I arrived at school, there was electricity in the air.  I kid you not!  There were people milling around.

The to-do list was long!

All that Ciara and I wanted to do was work.

We found our niche – slicing pies, cakes, and sheets of cookies.

I don’t know how many I cut, but I think it’s safe to say dozens upon dozens.

We would cut a batch and then wait.  Before too long, people would walk in with more that they had baked at home.

Funny story:  At one point during the morning, volunteers were asked to move their cars to the back 40.  Ciara and I couldn’t find our way back to the cafeteria.  In the process, I ran into a metal pole because I was looking elsewhere.

I saw this shirt on Facebook and need to order it . . .

The event was scheduled to begin at 3pm.  We had a meeting at 1:45, and man, did Greg and Mr. Smith get us in our feelings.

Our primary responsibility – to love on people.

Just look at this room full of volunteers . . .

What an adrenaline rush to look at those around me and see the names of the companies who had joined forces – all in the name of love.

On our way outside, we stopped and signed a banner that really said it all . . .

Yes, we certainly were standing strong!

We made out way to the tent outside.

It was set up with tables and chairs where people could eat.  For now, it was where we would receive our orders.  I felt a little like I was a tribute for The Hunger Games.  I got picked . . . to serve food!!  I was with my tribe, a sweet group of teachers I’m blessed to work with.

As we headed back inside and pulled our gloves on, I felt like I was on Hell’s Kitchen, except for the hell part.  We were amped up and ready for service.  I was not in competition with anyone.  We were all there to support each other and those who live in our community.  It was going to be a love fest.

I took my place behind the mashed potatoes.  I was ready!

The crowd was small, at first.  Things got busy closer to five as people were getting off of work.  We could hear music playing outside.  There were live performers.  Inside, there was a din of conversation happening.  We greeted people with smiles, tried to coax the kids to eat their veggies, and basically had the best time ever.

Local news stations filmed us and encouraged the public to come see us.

https://www.mypanhandle.com/news/thousands-eat-free-meals-at-bay-high-school-family-of-schools-community-thanksgiving-dinner-/1609793343

Despite spending nearly eleven hours on my feet, all I felt was joy.  There’s something to the adage that healing comes when you look outside of yourself to the needs around you.

We shut things down around 7pm, cleaned up a little but not too much (we’d been instructed to leave things a little messy for GMA the next morning), and headed home.

My shirt was splattered with potatoes, but that didn’t matter a bit as I drove home.  It was dark in my neighborhood since street lamps still don’t work, but there was light in my heart.  I do believe that I went to bed with a smile on my face (and a 3:30 alarm).

Wednesday morning, I got up way before sunrise was on anyone’s radar.  Ciara had texted me that she was on her way.  You see, Good Morning America was going to be broadcasting LIVE from Jinks, and we were all invited to be a part of it.

We were some of the first people to arrive.  It was neat to watch the crew set up.

A group of us who arrived early got selected to film something in the pantry.  The footage wound up being used as a promo for the featured segment about our school.

When the crowd got larger, we were asked to remove our jackets and head over to the other side of the cafeteria where the lights had been set up.  My friend, Tiff (the librarian at the middle school), Ciara, and I randomly sat down at the table closest to the lights.

Now, a bit of a disclaimer.  I’ve never really watched GMA, so I had no idea who T.J. Holmes was.  Now I do, and all I can say is that he was extremely personable and kind.  His producer was a riot!  She has a teacher voice and wasn’t afraid to use it to get us all to behave.  Ha!  We practiced how he would run in, slap hands with people, and then sit down with Greg and Mr. Smith.  We were told not to have our cell phones out.  We were also told, once Greg and Mr. Smith were taken out of earshot, that a surprise was in order.

I can honestly say that I got tears in my eyes.  I’ve seen great reveals, so I was eager to see what was going to happen.

A group of people had been taken into the kitchen, and the rest of us were asked to be quiet.  This was where the live segment would start from.

The countdown began, and then were live.

It was all very exciting, let me tell you.  Panama City is not a large metropolis.  We are famous because of something terrible that happened to us.

Well, let me correct myself.  We are famous because we are rising from something terrible that happened.

Watch the video below (I’m actually behind Greg).

That donation at the end – T.J.’s tears – all the feels.

There was a collective pride in that room for what we had done.  We were humbled because we had pulled it off – in ten days time.  We had loved on those around us despite going back to our own damaged homes or in the case of many, hotel rooms or other places they now call home.

In fact, Greg lost his own home and is living in a camper on the beach side, yet he and his family gave up many days of their personal recovery time to spearhead this.

I don’t know about you, but this inspires me.  Watching my friends and complete strangers reach out to help others so tirelessly makes me want to be a better human.

We still have months and years of recovery ahead of us.  It is overwhelming when you look around you at all that needs to be done, but we are doing it together because we are #850strong, #panhandlestrong, and every hashtag in between.

2 Responses

  1. Being without electricity & having hardships for a few days, I cant imagine how you all are doing it for WEEKS. It takes everyone coming together. God love you ALL!!!!!!!
    … but we still gotta talk about that DWTS finale? WHAT A MESS!!!!

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