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Rebuild 850 launched to aid Panhandle recovery after Hurricane Michael


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TALLAHASSEE — Two former state House speakers and several nonprofits and organizations launched an initiative on Thursday to aid parts of the Florida Panhandle devastated by Hurricane Michael.

Called Rebuild 850, the initiative’s goal is to raise money and volunteers, then pool those resources to better help residents and businesses with long-term needs not met by government aid and insurance.

The initiative includes a website, www.rebuild850.org, launched on Thursday, where people can donate money or volunteer aid for those in need.

Former Florida House Speakers Allan Bense and Will Weatherford are spearheading the initiative and have gathered a host of partners, including United Way of Florida, the American Red Cross, Volunteer Florida, the Florida Chamber, the Florida Chamber Foundation, the Florida League of Cities, the Florida Association of Counties, the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, Get Ready, Florida! & FAIR Foundation, and the Florida Press Association.

Donations to Rebuild 850 will be administered by Volunteer Florida’s Florida Disaster Fund. The Florida Disaster Fund is the state’s private fund established to assist communities following disasters.

Organizers said the hope of the initiative is not just to raise money and volunteers, but to encourage investment and tourism to help get the Panhandle’s economy back on its feet.

“This is America and this is a place where we help each other,” said Bense, who already has donated $25,000 to Rebuild 850. “We need businesses and individuals to help us. ... We’ll make it, but let’s not rely on the government.”


Weatherford said the idea also is to keep the Panhandle in the thoughts of other Floridians and Americans.

“This is about making sure the Panhandle is not forgotten,” Weatherford said. “This is an effort to bring awareness and resources and ultimately capital to the area.”

Group organizers also said that the aid raised by the initiative would mainly help individuals and businesses with needs not covered by insurance or government aid.

“The areas most affected have an extraordinarily high poverty rate. ... These donations will help them get back on their feet,” said Ted Granger, president of United Way of Florida. “This is a great way to pool resources and get help to the right places at the right time.”

Tony Carvajal, executive vice president of the Florida Chamber Foundation, said attracting tourism and businesses investment, combined with awareness, must be big parts of the recovery effort.

“Many parts of the region fared better through the storm and remain open for business,” Carvajal said. “And the region is loaded with opportunity for investment.”

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