Our legacy is not only for our National Parks and public lands.
As a company, Wild Tribute takes pride in the philanthropic fabric that defines our reason for being. To date, our 4 the Parks donations have eclipsed the “hundreds of thousands” mark and visibly have had a profound impact supporting America’s most wild and historic places. While the core of our mission is to give back, Wild Tribute also exists to help educate and inspire. The latter of which can take many forms, and in some cases are not utterly specific to our National Parks and public lands. After all, inspiring one soul can lead to the unthinkable…and most importantly provide HOPE, a common thread very much intertwined with the fight for our most treasured public lands.
The aftermath of Hurricane Michael provided such an opportunity. At the heart of Wild Tribute’s product is design. A need was identified, we were challenged to deliver, and we gladly accepted.
While Michael doesn't own the widespread reputation of Andrew or Irma, it undoubtedly packed an unforgettable punch to the communities of Mexico Beach and Panama City. Disguised as a storm that was only forecasted to reach Category 3 strength, Michael unexpectedly had different plans. Erupting into a Category 5 storm as it made landfall, Michael was unforgiving and crudely gave those who opted not to evacuate more than they bargained.
Those of us who are fortunate to only experience the wrath of a hurricane on TV often associate the lines of cars on interstates during evacuations as a symbol of choice. But, unless your thrusted into this situation, the outsider looking in doesn't necessarily reconcile all that goes into making such a decision and where that decision isn't always as straightforward as it may seem.
Photo Credit: Joseph Graham
Case in point, St. Andrews Bay Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. The medical community is burdened with difficult choices in these unprecedented times of crisis. Maintaining continuity of patient care is the root of such decisions and the prospect of having to evacuate and transport the elderly and chronically-ill is laden with risk. With appropriate preparations, sound infrastructure, and a seemingly surmountable odds to successfully withstand a severe weather event, you balance the aforementioned by staying in place. Saying that, Category 4+ Hurricanes often do warrant evacuation despite the risks involved. However, specific to Michael, a fast moving system that unpredictably strengthened before landfall, by the time it had strengthened to a force in which many more would have evacuated, it was too late and bridges had already been closed due to severe wind speeds - sheltering in place was the only option.
With that foreshadowing, you likely can piece together St Andrew’s story. Tracking the forecasts closely, management opted to stay in place despite Michael’s impending approach, trusting the situation could be managed given their training and planning for such scenarios. Michael’s fury hit hard. Although the infrastructure of St. Andrews remained sound throughout the storm, and electricity unbelievably was never lost (due to back-up generators), the experience of those who took shelter within the home was nightmarish at best. The wind blew so hard, it felt as if the building’s doors were wide open. The awnings at the front of the home were ripped off, and most strikingly to the employees, upon first walking outside to assess the damage, all of the surrounding trees were uprooted – the tree line they use to know was no more.
Photo Credit: Joseph Graham
Perhaps worst of all, there was no cell service nor digital communication, thus St. Andrew’s staff was forced to methodically learn that most who lived nearby had lost everything. Imagine working a 12+ hour shift followed by the challenge of sleeping through a raging storm at your workspace with nothing but devastation to wake up too. The only light to be found was the community’s collective mission to maintain care for their residents. As the storm tapered, once St. Andrews and its residents were stabilized, employees of St. Andrews bound together to help others in need. See, calling 911 was first not an option, and if it were, there was nothing the police nor firemen could do – they couldn’t get to them. Remarkably, St. Andrew employees walked down the road to a neighboring nursing home to find they had fared much worse. If it wasn’t for their selflessness and willingness to adopt at least one or two new temporary residents under St. Andrew’s care, the ultimate price of death was surely avoided.
This experience led to a bond that has since fortified the St. Andrew’s community through thick and thin. The storm passed and much of the city remained without electricity even 12 days later. The staff of St. Andrews went home to ravaged structures, where the only thing some could hold onto was the sense of community that was forged. The sun came up in ensuing days, but the trauma was real and the lasting physical memories are ever present. Still, as time passes, wounds heal, yet the new reality of recovery and the knowledge nothing will be the same again is numbing.
Photo Credit: Joseph Graham
A Wild Tribute supporter connected to St. Andrews reached out to us, aware of our philanthropic mission, and simply asked if there was something we could do. Modestly put, we wish we could do more. But we were happy to help in a small way to aid the healing and sustain the light of hope critical for revival. We ended-up producing a design that curates the bond of community and the path forward. In the darkest of times, community can overcome. We thank the St. Andrews team for their inspired model of perseverance, for letting Wild Tribute play a small part in their story, and for the resulting testimony we all can lean on when hope is present. Hope is the ticket.