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Hurricane help continues despite local business closures

Gone Outdoors provides hot meals to people in need Thursday, Sept. 7, 2023. (Austin Stirling/WUFT News)
Gone Outdoors provides hot meals to people in need Thursday, Sept. 7, 2023. (Austin Stirling/WUFT News)

CROSS CITY, Fla . -- On the West Coast of Florida, volunteers, relief shelters and meal stands can be found on almost every corner.

With many businesses unable to open their doors, volunteers have stepped up to provide the community with the essential goods residents normally obtain from hurricane-damaged businesses.

“We’ve lost everything,” said Tammy Bryan, 50, who owned retail business property that was destroyed.

Hurricane Idalia barrelled into Florida’s Big Bend, with areas like Cross City and Horseshoe Beach seeing massive damage to homes, landmarks and local businesses.

In Northern Florida on the Gulf of Mexico, Horseshoe Beach saw high-water levels during the storm that flooded almost the entirety of the small town. Bryan owned property that provided space for the Salted Shoe apparel store, the public library and her main office. It was completely flooded when water levels rose to roughly 4 feet inside the building.

“The water blew out the wall of the Salted Shoe,” Bryan said.

She explained that, despite their best efforts to prepare for the hurricane prior to the evacuation mandates, the storm’s impact was too severe and nearly all items in the building were ruined.

Horseshoe Beach, which has a population of around 179 full-time residents, has felt the loss of this shopping center and other revenue streams, she said. Businesses like the town’s pizzeria, boat rental services and general shopping centers have all remained closed due to the extensive damage.

“As far as the revenue for our community right now, it’s in a bad way,” Bryan said.

Local businesses are struggling to get back on their feet, but there has been no shortage of people willing to provide resources to those in need.

“We guesstimated we handed out around 400 meals as of [Wednesday],” said Stephen Cone, 54. “By the end of tonight, I would guess somewhere around 600.”

Cone’s group has been providing free meals to people in the community for four days. They have been cooking burgers, hotdogs, chicken and other hot foods on the grill for anyone to walk up and take. With the restaurants in Horseshoe Beach closed the impact of their actions has been a major uplift to the beleaguered community.

Cone is the vice president of Gone Outdoors, an organization that takes veterans and first responders on various outdoor activities such as hunting trips, fishing and baseball games free of charge. He said providing food for hurricane victims is not something his organization usually does, but when he got the call from a friend, he said he knew he had to help as much as he could.

“All of us, our job is to do whatever we can to help support, first our veterans and first responders, but then our local community,” he said. “We’ve got the resources, all of us are retired so that makes it a whole lot easier.”

Cone’s efforts have tremendously helped ease the burden of many people unable to buy food from their local grocery stores or restaurants. The meals provided have given people one less thing to worry about during this uncertain time.

Cone isn’t the only out-of-town business owner volunteering his resources to help with recovery meal efforts.

Sean Lamey, 54, is the owner of the Jersey Kabob’s of Tampa Bay food truck, and he has been involved in recovery efforts in Cross City and Steinhatchee. Lamey has traveled back and forth between the two towns serving boxed meals to residents. He explained that he typically serves lunch in Steinhatchee and dinner in Cross City.

Lamey is giving back through an organization called Operation Barbeque Relief. He volunteers his time, truck and cooking equipment while the organization provides him with food to distribute in areas needing hurricane relief.

“Probably the best feeling I have is working with [Operation Barbeque Relief],” he said.

In the six days Lamey has been volunteering, he estimates the organization has provided over 100,000 meals in the affected areas in Florida.

“Two thousand (meals) out of each food truck typically,” he said. “They distribute to churches and shelters.”

Lamey said he is very passionate about helping those in need. He said he would leave the area when “the need is no longer,” and plans to remain in Big Bend distributing meals for the foreseeable future.

With most local businesses still unable to open their doors and provide services, community and outside help have been crucial in responding to basic community needs.

“At the end of the day, every day is a brighter day,” Bryan said.

Austin is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing