ECMS, community come to aid of hurricane victims

Shown are the Escambia County Middle School Student Government Association members and football players who helped load the first of two trailers filled with bottled water and other relief supplies for victims of Hurricane Irma.

Most of the time, the only obstacle Escambia County Middle School students have to deal with in the school’s hallways are other students who are rushing to their next class. That wasn’t the case recently, though.

Students at the local school not only had to dodge other students, they also had to make their way around stacks of bottled water, cartons of paper goods and boxes filled with other supplies destined for Florida residents who were victims of Hurricane Irma.

“I am super-excited,” said Michelle McKey, the ECMS teacher who helped spearhead the relief effort, as the supplies were moved to a waiting trailer on September 29. “The students responded well; they brought in tons of stuff.”

Principal Debbie Bolden agreed that the response, which stretched way beyond the ECMS campus, was an impressive one that also included another local school.

“Once we asked the people at Rachel Patterson (Elementary School), they really helped us out,” Bolden said. “So did the community. Pepsi (Cola Bottling Co. of Atmore) brought paper products and Clorox; a lot of individuals brought in items; United Bank donated water; the Chamber (of Commerce) brought in stuff, and the city of Atmore donated a bunch of new clothes.”

Local firefighter AJ Beachy, who owns Hawkeye Lawn Care, provided a 24-foot utility trailer that was filled to capacity with the donated goods. The majority of the supplies were carried from the school to the trailer by members of the school’s Student Government Association, along with co-sponsors Michelle Wheeler and Tyler Parker, and a handful of football players.

Also helping with the loading were Beachy, firefighter friend Gerry Steege, McKey and her husband Kevin, ECMS custodial worker James Williams, ECMS football coach Layton Knight and James Wilson, a Phi Beta Sigma brother of the coach.

“They said they needed help, so here we are,” said Knight. “Our fraternity has a chapter here, and we do community service like this all the time.”

Steege reported that there were others who also had donations, making it necessary for a second trailer, which was also loaded to capacity.

“Helton Brothers Farms donated a pallet of water; Christopher at Rowland’s Tire and Service Center gave us $100 to buy water; Church of the Living God has several boxes for us to pick up, and Escofab let us use their hand trucks,” he said.

McKey said the idea for the relief effort actually came from a student and quickly turned into a competition that resulted in the huge outpouring of donations.

“What happened was that after the storm one of my fourth-grade kids said, ‘Mrs. McKey, why don’t we do something to help?’, so I said, ‘OK, let’s do something.’ You’ve got to have an incentive, so we (McKey and Bolden) promised an ice cream and pizza party to the class that brought in the most stuff. That’s how all this got started, and here we are.”

The trailers were towed September 30 to Community Cooperative in Ft. Myers, Fla., one by Beachy and his wife Mallorie; the other by Steege and his wife Kaitlyn.

AJ Beachy said there was a simple reason he took on the challenge of getting the badly needed items to those who were left temporarily or permanently homeless by the hurricane.

“We’ve been blessed as a business, and we wanted to bless others,” he said.