Air Force spouse launches viral campaign for Tyndall hurricane relief effort
By JIM THOMPSON | The Northwest Florida Daily News | Published: October 25, 2018
CRESTVIEW, Fla. (Tribune News Service) — The first 980 packages were a surprise for Alicia Barnett. And things soon would get even more overwhelming.
Like many people, Barnett was struck by the devastation of Hurricane Michael. And, as an Air Force spouse, she was concerned about airmen and families dealing with the near-total destruction of Tyndall Air Force Base.
"If that had happened to my family, I would have wanted someone to ask what I needed," Barnett said. So, as a "Key Spouse" at Eglin Air Force Base — an initiative that supports Air Force families — Barnett began monitoring social media and reaching out to see what Tyndall families needed.
Then, using Facebook's Key Spouse page — Barnett's husband is Master Sgt. Benjamin Barnett, an Eglin airfield manager — Barnett got involved with the creation of gift registries at Target and Amazon. She arranged for deliveries to her home, with plans to distribute donations to Tyndall airmen and families in the immediate area.
"I was expecting a couple of people to donate," she said.
Then, Barnett got a call from the Post Office.
"They said, 'We have eight pallets for you,'" she said.
Already busy with the couple's five children, the delivery of nearly 1,000 packages was a shock to Barnett.
"It was sort of 'No — oh, no!'" she said.
For a while, Barnett tried to handle the deluge of packages that FedEx, UPS and the Post Office delivered. She got some help from neighbors, and her children, in sorting items for her to deliver to displaced Tyndall airmen and their families. Then came the moment she understood she'd need help.
"It was when the Target registry called and said, 'We have 900 boxes coming to your house," she said.
At the same time, Barnett's story reached the Air Force Enlisted Village in Shalimar, a nonprofit organization that provides housing to widows of enlisted Air Force personnel. Already involved in its own massive relief effort, coordinating both donations and deliveries of relief supplies to the hurricane-ravaged area, the AFEV agreed to take Barnett's packages.
Volunteers sort through both and determine where they are most needed. Using computers, they scroll through requests for assistance.
"We (also) get intelligence on what they (storm victims) need when the drivers come back," said Scott Delveau, AFEV's development director and coordinator of the relief effort.
On Tuesday afternoon, a large room in the welcome center was stacked high with canned vegetables, cases of soup, and relief kits packed by members of the Mormon Church, among hundreds of other boxes being readied for Wednesday delivery.
"We didn't realize it was going to be to the scope that it is," said Brooke McLean, president and CEO of the Air Force Enlisted Village.
At the end of this week, the AFEV is closing down its relief efforts, because the welcome center will be used as a polling place for early voting in advance of the Nov. 6 general election. Friday is the last day that donations will be accepted at AFEV, and Saturday will be the last day for deliveries, Delveau said.
Meanwhile in Crestview, Alicia Barnett continues to receive about 20 packages each day, and remains committed to getting the items to people who need them.
"As long as I get donations, I will get them where they need to go," she said.
©2018 the Northwest Florida Daily News (Fort Walton Beach, Fla.)
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