FORT MYERS, Fla. – A Fort Myers church has become a symbol of hope for many impacted by a cataclysmic storm that ripped through the coastal communities of Southwest Florida.
As residents continue to rebuild after Hurricane Ian, there's a new effort from police officers around the Sunshine State to lend a helping hand.
The Florida Police Benevolent Association is collecting donations in Fort Myers to get much-needed supplies, including food, water and generators to residents.
Hurricane Ian is sure to go down as one of the most impactful storms in U.S. history. The scope of the disaster is still coming into focus more than a week after the storm made landfall.
"It's a heartbreaking thing to watch to know that right now nearly all of Southwest Florida, especially in Lee County, is still in a food and water emergency," Next Level Church Pastor Matt Keller said. "Because there's a boil water notice, people just don't have food and water."
Police agencies from across South Florida traveled nearly 100 miles to deliver supplies, including bottled water, non-perishable food and cleaning supplies to Keller's downtown Fort Myers church for community members who remain in dire need.
Volunteers have been all week serving about 2,000 people a day on average with those life-saving necessities.
"We're just trying to offer hope as best we can," Keller said.
Help has arrived from all over the state, including agencies in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, who could have faced the same devastation from Hurricane Ian but fortunately missed it.
"We're so thankful for all the help we're getting from our brothers and sisters on the East Coast who are standing with us and doing donation drives," Keller said. "It means the world to us in a season like this. And we promise we got you next. Hoping it doesn't happen. But we're all in this together. We Floridians, we stick together."
The next several days, if not months, will be difficult for Southwest Florida. And while the first few weeks are about relief, it then turns into long-term recovery.
But churches like Next Level Church are positioned to be able to help with that recovery.
"We're here. We've been here for 20 years, and we're going to be here for the next 20 years and beyond," Miller said.
If you require water and essentials, Next Level Church’s food distribution will be at 3637 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Supplies will vary depending on what supplies are available. They will be distributed daily until Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. or until supplies last.