Ever since Hurricane Michael destroyed her hometown in early October, Meghan Sexton has been on a mission to help it recover.
Every Friday, Meghan leaves her job as a system compliance resource manager for Crothall in Baltimore and flies to Panama City, Florida, where she spends the weekend helping people whose lives have been turned upside down by the hurricane.
Meghan’s parents and one of her brothers are among thousands that had their homes destroyed and now live in temporary housing. Even today, the local schools are closed and hundreds of people are still living at Arnold High School, which serves as the emergency shelter for all of the city’s hurricane evacuees.
But Meghan is undeterred. After arriving in Florida late every Friday night, she works 10 hours each on Saturday and Sunday as a volunteer for the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army. She does whatever job is needed; cleaning up at the high school, unpacking supplies, delivering canned goods and toys.
“I care about Panama City community very much,” she says. “My parents, my brother and a lot of people I know from high school or college had their homes completely destroyed. We’re very fortunate that no lives were lost, but everyone’s life has been altered. It’s going to take a long time for people to get back on their feet and for the local economy to come back.”
After her Sunday shift, Meghan takes the last flight home, often arriving in Baltimore around 2 a.m. With just a few hours of sleep, she gets to work on time on Monday morning where she oversees program, data and patient experience compliance for 10 hospitals in the MedStar Health System in Washington D.C. and Baltimore.
Meghan’s parents and brother have been relocated to temporary housing as part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) disaster recovery plan. While her parents plan to rebuild their home, she estimates it could take 8-12 months before insurance claims are paid and the rebuilding process can begin.
Still, they are among the lucky ones. News organizations report that approximately 48,665 households in Bay County, which includes Panama City, have applied for aid through FEMA — about a quarter of all people living in the Gulf Coast county.
Meghan’s ties to the community extend to her Crothall family, too. After receiving her graduate degree from Florida State University in 2011, she got her first job at Crothall as the patient experience manager at the Bay Regional Medical Center in Panama City. She worked there for a year and a half before taking the job in Baltimore in 2013.
Unfortunately, the hurricane damaged the medical center and an adjacent medical office building, causing a major pullback in services. Meghan says more than 800 people will lose their jobs at the hospital. “It’s very sad to see so many people lose their jobs, houses and way of life.”
Meghan’s dedication to rebuild her community extends beyond her weekend volunteer work. Two days after the hurricane hit, she sent a flyer to the unit directors at the 10 MedStar hospitals to solicit donations of canned food, clothing and toys. Working closely with the Maryland Food Bank, she has arranged for the items to be shipped to Panama City, often picking up the cost of shipping. One weekend, she even loaded up a U-Haul truck with donations and made the 17-hour drive alone to Panama City.
Her efforts have made a significant difference. From mid-October through Thanksgiving weekend, more than 2,200 canned goods, 200 pieces of clothing and 27 toys have been donated. She is grateful to everyone willing to help families that have lost so much.
“So many people at Crothall and MedStar have made donations and are making it possible for others to begin to recover,” Meghan says. “I can’t express my appreciation enough.”
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