Tampa couple starts relief effort for Hurricane Irma victims in the Florida Keys

"Caring for the Keys" will donate food; toiletries

TAMPA, Fla. - In the middle of a South Tampa neighborhood, a garage is being packed with relief that just keeps coming.

"I figured I'd drop by the grocery store and get some stuff," said EJ Ciaccio who dropped off some water and food Wednesday afternoon.

It's all part of Jessica Hiam's latest mission: Caring for the Keys.

"I was raised there. It's been my home. It's everything to me. It's still my home, I have my businesses there," she told us.

After Hurricane Irma destroyed so much of the islands there, Hiam and her husband are doing what only comes natural.

"What we're trying to do is get as many supplies from the State of Florida down to Key West," she said.

The effort started with a simple Facebook post among friends on Tuesday afternoon. By Wednesday, Hiam had confirmed donation sites in Miami, Boca Raton, Orlando and Tampa.

In Tampa, water and food can be dropped off at McDitton's Irish Pub among other locations (see below).

"Being without power myself and knowing how much worse it could have been we really wanted to help our neighbors," Randy Esponda the General Manager of McDitton's said.

From water and food to toiletries, at Hiam's home a friend also dropped off a stroller.

Jessica Higgins moved back to Tampa from Key West just two months ago.

"I picked up from a bunch of people water, diapers all kinds of stuff. I just wanted to help in whatever way since I can't get down there," she said.

The effort is as grassroots as it gets. Hiam's garage is a staging site for supplies while her living room is the operations center where a few friends on laptops are organizing donation efforts.

Hiam is also still working to confirm boats and boat captains who can deliver the supplies in to the Keys. Right now, entrance to the Keys is limited to mainly emergency rescue workers and disaster relief organizations. Friends who are pilots were just cleared to land in Marathon on Sunday. Friends on the ground in the Keys will drop off care-packages home to home starting Tuesday, Hiam hopes.

"I'm hoping it relieves tension there and I hope it takes a little pressure off of disaster relief down there," she said.

Hiam has also been personally impacted by Hurricane Irma. Her dog who has been staying with family in Key West died on Wednesday because the family couldn't get more heart medicine since everything is shut down.

"It's all so terrible," Hiam said through tears.

Donate to Caring for the Keys at the following locations in Hillsborough County:

  • Tampa:
    • McDitton's Irish Pub, 405 S Howard Avenue
    • 202 S Audubon Avenue, Unit 1 
  • Lutz:
    • Ice Cream Shop, 23912 SR 54 , Ballast Point
    • 6017 S 6th Street Tampa

You can also email the program at caringforthekeys@gmail.com of visit their GoFundMe page

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