When Lorelei Kelley saw on the news the devastation caused by Hurricane Michael in her old hometown of Blountstown, Florida, she knew she had to do something to help.

Kelley, 33, of Vassalboro, got in touch with the coordinator of the local distribution center in Calhoun County which is helping hurricane victims.

“I said, ‘Hey, I’m from Maine but I’m from down there,'” she recalled. “I want to help. What do you need?'”

The hurricane victims, she learned, need large tarps to cover holes in roofs or to cover homes that lost their roofs entirely. People also need charcoal for cooking, cans of propane, bug spray, candles, batteries, solar chargers, diapers, formula, dry goods, clothespins and gift cards, to name a few.

Kelley started collecting items from her family and friends and asked her church to help. She set up an email address — [email protected] — where people wanting to help may ask her questions. She set up a GoFundMe page at GoFundMe.com/mainegiveshopefund and put together informational packets to deliver to local businesses to explain she is gathering items for hurricane victims.

Those wanting to donate items may drop them off at the East Vassalboro Grange Hall on Route 32 3-6 p.m. Wednesday and noon-2 p.m. and 5-9 p.m. Thursday. Kelley said if those times are not convenient, people may email her and she will make other arrangements for collecting donations.

Kelley, who has a husband and three young children, plans to pack up her small Toyota Corolla and drive to Blountstown Oct. 29 and spend four days there, donating the items people contribute and volunteering at the distribution center. She plans to stay with relatives, including her father, who is a forest firefighter, and stepmother, a teacher. Her brothers also live there.

“From people that I’ve spoken to, it literally looks like a war zone,” Kelley said. “I looked at pictures of the school and there are holes in the ceiling and papers everywhere. It just broke my heart.”

She said a friend may go with her to Florida, though that is not confirmed.

“It would be nice if someone has a rental vehicle they want to let me use,” she said.

The victims are people Kelley grew up with in the town of fewer than 2,500 people — blue collar workers who have worked hard all their lives and lost everything. Mothers are bathing children in rivers because there’s no other place to do it, she said. Her father’s house, fortunately, is livable, though parts of the roof were destroyed and the trees in the yard were twisted and blown down. They are using a generator, as there is no electricity.

“In that county and immediate surrounding areas, they may not have power for up to three months,” Kelley said.

When the hurricane hit, her stepmother and brothers evacuated to Alabama, but her father stayed because her grandfather would not leave, she said.

Kelley, a waitress at The Last Unicorn restaurant in Waterville, moved from Florida to Maine while in her teens, as she also has family here. A graduate of Lawrence High School in Fairfield, she recalled last year when she and her family lost power for a week after a windstorm hit central Maine. She and her husband struggled to keep their children warm, and they lost all of the food in their refrigerator and freezer. While it was tough, she says it was not nearly as devastating as the situation people in Florida are facing.

Hurricane Michael blew down a tree that bisects a trailer in Blountstown, Fla., a town of about 2,500 people in the panhandle.

When Hurricane Michael struck the panhandle, she was afraid for her family and sad that her old community was so devastated.

She remembers praying about what she should do to help and decided she would launch a fund and donation drive and head to Florida. She will miss her children and husband, Heath, a supervisor at Alcom LLC, in Winslow, and says it will not be easy to leave them, but she knows it is the right thing to do.

“I feel like, if you had nothing and someone handed you $10, that would be like a million dollars to you and that would make you feel so loved and so supported,” she said.

Furthermore, at 33, Kelley has been thinking a lot lately about the fact that she is grateful for all she has and wants to reach out and help those less fortunate — to spread a little hope and joy.

“I’ve been thinking, how can I make my life worth it? How can I leave my impression on the world? Being a mom is amazing — don’t get me wrong — but I want to do more. I want to help. Hopefully, this will be my first step toward other volunteer efforts.”

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter for 30 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.

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