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Task force comes to rescue for Suncoast

September 20, 2017
By CHUCK BALLARO ( , North Fort Myers Neighbor

When Hurricane Irma did its worse, neighbor helped neighbor in Suncoast Estates.

The community came together to help clean up, provide food and water to those in need and show they care.

There was a lot of that before, during and after the storm, thanks to two groups, the Suncoast Neighborhood Task Force and the Community Emergency Response Team They made sure those 5,600 homes in the community had food and water, and even came out to their homes during the storm to make sure they were OK.

Article Photos

From left, Tia Coates, Gene Carpenter, co-chairs Tony Lappas and Bob Etre and Pam Blanton, members of the Suncoast Neighborhood Task Force.


Bob Etre, co-chair of the SNTF, said the area made out well, all things considered. Many trees fell, some on houses, and nearly everyone lost power, but the homes themselves pretty much stayed intact, the damage superficial.

"The people are pretty happy they still have a house to live in. They are bearing and grinning that they have no electricity, but overall, they are in good spirits," Etre said. "Thank God the storm went from a four to a two."

The Suncoast Community Center, at 2241 Case Lane, was the only place that had power, thanks to a back-up generator, and it served as the CERT Center for emergency response.

After the storm, the center was used as a place for residents to go for water, MREs (Meals Ready to Eat), bug spray, ice, charging their phones and other things. Nearly three dozen families had come in as of early Tuesday to take advantage.

The task force was busy long before the storm. On Tuesday, they held a food pantry of canned goods, and transported people to area shelters or to relatives' homes if they needed a ride there, all in personal vehicles since they don't have a van or bus, Etre said.

"We've only had a few calls for rides back. If they call, we'll be happy to bring them back to where they need to go," Etre said.

He feels the plight of those in Suncoast have gone both unnoticed and ignored.

He concedes that those who lived south of Bayshore, where flooding was a major problem, merited attention but except, for general comments about those who live in trailers needing to evacuate, there was little media attention paid to Suncoast specifically.

"We've gotten little coverage from the major networks. They haven't sent anyone here or talked to anyone," Etre said. "We are people, too. We are a poverty area. We can't just put up another trailer tomorrow or move."

When the major media do come, it's usually about the latest drug arrest or crime spree, which offends many in the community, especially others who represent the two dozen members of the SNTE

"Everyone talks so bad about Suncoast, but we all work together here. When you hear Suncoast, people say 'Oh, that's a bad area," or they think everyone is a drug addict," said Tina Coates, a member of the task force. "They don't show the good stuff such as Christmas and Halloween and Family Fun Day. Let something bad happen, it's front-page news."

"Every city has an area that's bad. There are bad spots everywhere. I've lived here my whole life and I never have problems here," said Darla Crawford, another task force member. "If you're associated with bad people, that's what's going to happen."

Those who are on the force said that there may be an occasional bad apple, but the vast majority are happy they come and express their thanks for all they do.

The task force holds meetings the fourth Monday of every month from 6 to 8 p.m. at the community center, where the Lee County Sheriff's Office gets them up to date on crime numbers, prevention and other issues.

Tony Lappas, co-chair for the task force, said they would love to replenish their supply of volunteers, on the task force and the CERT, many of which have either moved away or passed on.

For more information on how to join, call the Suncoast Community Center at 731-9839 or go to its Facebook page.



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