On September 28, Hurricane Ian, a Category 4 storm, made landfall near Ft. Meyers, FL, inflicting widespread destruction. The Sri Sathya Sai Group of Bradenton/Sarasota, closest to the impact area, conducted an initial damage assessment to determine relief supplies that would be needed. Sai volunteers from Ft. Lauderdale and Orlando, FL, also made a few trips to Ft. Meyers, driving 2-3 hours each way, to assess the urgent needs of the hurricane-devastated communities.

Once the National Disaster Relief Team (NDRT) decided to adopt this as a national project, other Sri Sathya Sai International Organization (SSSIO) members became involved. They located local churches, such as the Liberty Church in Lehigh Acres, FL, which could receive SSSIO relief supplies and help distribute them to impacted communities.

SSSIO members from the region, including Ft. Lauderdale, Miami Central, Orlando, Bradenton/Sarasota, Clearwater, FL, and Northeast Atlanta, GA, donated relief supplies while a few volunteers drove several hours to drop them off. In addition, the Sri Sathya Sai Center of Greensboro, NC, organized a regional blood drive, providing interested SSSIO volunteers from all over the region a chance to contribute, even those without a nearby center or group.

Finally, in observance of Ladies Day and Sri Sathya Sai Baba’s 97th Birthday, a coordinated regional effort was carried out. Members from the Sri Sathya Sai Center of Northeast Atlanta, GA, collected relief supplies and drove a distance of 630 miles to drop them off at Liberty Church during Thanksgiving weekend. At the same time, volunteers from Sri Sathya Sai Centers of Orlando and Clearwater, FL, also arrived at Liberty Church with relief supplies. All of them were greeted by Pastors Dionne Walters and Oral Walters. After supplies were unloaded, Sai volunteers and the pastors had an inspirational devotional session.

Pastor Dionne expressed her deep gratitude: “We just want to give God thanks for God’s awesome people …This congregation of beautiful people have pulled together and sent these supplies to us.” Pastor Oral added, “These people have come so far, yet they are near in our hearts. They have come to fill the need impacting our community and I thank you … I want to make sure that whatever we do, we do it with love and care. We show that we are family, no matter where you are from … we are here to show that love in all we do.”

Relief efforts will continue throughout the year. Now that needs have been assessed, there is a national SSSIO website with links so that essential supplies can be ordered and donated online. Those wishing to donate may visit this website: http://sairelief.sathyasai.us/

Additional trips have been planned, including a distribution on the weekend before Christmas and a toy drive to bring comfort and cheer to the children.