For more than 30 years, Dawn Center of Hernando County, a certified domestic and sexual violence center, has been there for the citizens of Hernando--providing "no cost supportive services for victims/survivors to heal and plan their futures." And now, in its own time of need, the citizens of this community are here for Dawn Center.
"The shelter experienced a brief grease fire on July 20th that (thankfully) caused minimal damage due to the excellent job performed by our fire suppression system. The unfortunate side of that is the flooding that resulted from the fire suppression system as it was extensive," said Shannon Sokolowski, MNM Executive Director.
"We anticipate that it could be another two months still before we have full use of our shelter kitchen and living areas. Our shelter office was hardest hit (where the 24/7 hotline is answered) and it will likely be even longer before that is fully functional."
At the time of the fire, 25 residents occupied the shelter; families in need of food. And once the word was spread, the community responded.
Day after day, local businesses, organizations, and citizens came forward to supply robust, nourishing meals to shelter families; everything from elegant dinners featuring chickens and hams, potatoes and macaroni and cheese, etc., to fun foods like pizzas, barbecue, and chicken sandwiches, and all manner of treats and desserts.
"So, it's been a pretty long day for us here at Dawn Center's emergency shelter. On the bright side, it's just another reminder that our community is really great!" read a grateful Facebook post at https://www.facebook.com/dawncenterhernando.
Day after day on Facebook, Dawn Center expressed thanks to those who showed up to feed shelter guests. They dedicated grateful posts to Rotary Club of Brooksville Florida and Chick-fil-A Spring Hill, People Helping People of Hernando County, Albanese Catering, The Bistro, Sheriff Al and wife Rhonda Nienhuis, Texas Roadhouse, Jeannie Galbo, LaurieCue and Citarella Termite & Pest, The Whiting Agency, Liz Casner, Realtor, and Bread Box Bakery, and Jeanna Murphy.
Among the responses made to these posts were offers of additional help; one coming from a woman who had at one point benefitted from Dawn Center services. She expressed a desire to pay it forward by helping the center.
"We are honored at the community’s response to our need for 3 prepared meals each day," said Sokolowski.
In the eyes of many donors, it was the right thing to do.
"People Helping People helps those in our community who have food insecurities. We provide a lot of meals and food throughout the week so it only stands to reason that we would help the Dawn Center with meals," said Becky Burton, Executive Director of People Helping People in Hernando County, Inc. "We have a great group of volunteers and they were more than happy to step up and prepare food for them."
"During this period of “Stay in Place” and “Social Distancing” due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Rotary Club of Brooksville suspended its in-person meetings in favor of virtual “Zoom” meetings for safety reasons. It was decided by our Board of Directors that during this period, the Club would use the money usually dedicated to the luncheons to support local charities, particularly those tasked with feeding the hungry," said David B. Ghingher, President, The Rotary Club of Brooksville. "We partnered with several local restaurants and had them provide the meals to the organizations for distribution. When we heard of the unfortunate damage that was experienced in the kitchen at the Dawn Center, we were privileged to be able to dedicate those funds in their direction. We worked with the Bistro in Downtown Brooksville as well as Chick-Fil-A to provide 2 meals from each restaurant to assist the residents at the Center. In addition, some of the members of our club also prepared meals to help as well. In times such as these, we as a Club feel it is our calling to not only help those in need but also deliver that assistance by supporting local businesses whenever possible."
And Jeanna Murphy, whose meal was judged a fan favorite, had a personal reason for giving back.
"The Dawn Center has been there for me and my family in the past so I was happy to be able to help," said Murphy. "I always try to give back to those that have lifted me up along the way."
The fire and flood come at a particularly busy time for Dawn Center staff and volunteers.
"Regarding requests for shelter since the stay-at-home orders being lifted, we have seen a sharp increase since that time. Calls for service and requests for shelter service were down by over half during the stay at home orders. When those orders began to be lifted, we heard from survivors about the struggle to reach us confidentially when calls to our helpline could potentially be overheard," said Sokolowski. "We responded by enhancing our technology and we can now receive texts to our helpline and our website is enabled with a web-chat feature. These new options have been routinely used since they became available and requests for shelter had returned to pre-COVID figures by the time the fire and flood hit. We are committed to helping survivors no matter our circumstance and therefore have been able to connect survivors with our “sister” programs in neighboring communities, connection with our outreach program for survivors who don’t need to leave their homes, and even hotel stay for some survivors for whom that was the best option. We are on the road to recovery and look forward to continuing to serve Hernando County survivors well into the future."
And, according to the organizational Facebook page, the staff and volunteers at Dawn Center are meeting the challenge.
"Our shelter experienced a fire/flood last month. Many members of the community donated hot meals for our participants. Our amazing volunteers and board members were extremely helpful during this crisis. Many arranged meals with local vendors and others physically drove and picked up the meal and delivered it to shelter," the post read. "On behalf of our staff and participants, Dawn Center would like to thank you for your help during such a difficult time! We are so lucky to have such amazing volunteers."
As the shelter continues to recover from its fire and flood, more help is needed.
"In the weeks that have transpired since some of those residents have moved on. We now have 15 people, which is still quite a few but is a better fit for slow-cooker meals and other cooking measures that don’t rely on large appliances," said Sokolowski. "We would welcome donations to cover the cost of feeding and any renovation costs that will exceed our insurance claim. Gift can be made online at www.dawncenter.org and pressing the “donate” button or can be made payable to Dawn Center and mailed to P.O. Box 6179, Spring Hill, FL 34611-6179. We so appreciate the support of our community at this difficult time."