For the fourth day in a row, Doug Jackson got ready to fly to the areas hard-hit by Hurricane Michael.
Water, clothing, hygiene products and 2,000 pounds of chicken among other supplies have all been on board his and other volunteers’ planes this week. Jackson and his team fly under the name Operation Airdrop, a volunteer non-profit, which has been delivering supplies since Saturday to the Panhandle out of the University Air Center at Gainesville Regional Airport.
A private pilot who has been flying for more than 30 years, Jackson and his organization watch for major storms, and put the word out to their 550 registered pilots in 38 states that help is needed. Airdrop was formed after Hurricane Harvey hit their home state of Texas in 2017.
“We started [planning] as soon as we knew there was a hurricane brewing,” said Jackson.
Five days before the storm hit, Operation Airdrop made the final decision to come down, back when the storm was projected to hit at a Category 1 or 2, instead of just short of a Category 5.
They thought their contribution would be minimal, Jackson said.
Instead, Operation Airdrop has had 75 to 100 pilots come in and out during the 4-day stint, delivering hot meals along with the 50,000 pounds of supplies, according to Jackson.
They’re delivering to people like Derek Carpenter, Pastor at the Salem Wesleyan Church in Marianna, Florida, which was in the path of the storm.
His community, still mostly without power, is grateful for any help they can get, said Carpenter.
“If they could see their faces when we hand things out, they’ve been very, very appreciative.”
All the time, fuel and resources, are donated by volunteers, according to Jackson. Most of the supplies come from partnerships with other non-profits and companies, such as World Hope International and Amazon.
But even with big donations, the airdrop can always take more, said John Lyon, President of World Hope International.
“I just got back from Port St. Joe and there’s a big need for food,” said Lyon. “The normal business supply lines aren’t re-established there.”
Operation Airdrop and World Hope International intend to deliver supplies as long as donations keep coming in and pilots are volunteering, according to Lyon.
“I hate disasters. I hate the destruction [of] the property, the loss of life, but if there is any good that comes out of it, it’s to see how people can come together.”
And for Jackson, it’s just a chance to put what he loves to good use.
“To be able to help and make a difference with a hobby like that is really incredible,” said Jackson. “I think that’s what made this a success, because people could do what they love and make a difference with it.”
For those interested in donating or volunteering, Operation Airdrop is located at 4701 NE 40th Terrace.