Hurricane relief drive taking place in Cortez

CORTEZ – The Swordfish Grill, the Cortez Bait & Seafood Company, The Blessing Bags Project and the Service Industry Relief Festivities (SIRF) organization are teaming up to provide supplies to Floridians impacted by Hurricane Michael.

The relief efforts are set to begin at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 16, with two semi-trailers stationed in the plaza parking lot near the Cortez Fish Market (12110 Cortez Road W.) and Cortez Post Office.

The goal is to fill both trailers with donated backpacks filled with donated toys, baby supplies (diapers, baby wipes, etc.), personal hygiene products, first aid supplies, sunscreen, bug spray and other comfort items. Cash donations will also be accepted.

As he did last year after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, Swordfish Grill General Manager Bob Slicker is helping spearhead the local relief efforts.

“I was sitting there this morning sitting by myself, watching the news and crying and I thought I needed to do something,” Slicker said Monday morning.

Applying lessons learned last year, Slicker said the focus this year is on comfort items that are easier to stage, transport and distribute than the bulkier food, water and clothing that were among the many items collected last year.

The Bradenton/Sarasota-based Blessing Bags Project has a great deal of experience collecting, filling and distributing backpacks to those in need locally, and one Monday afternoon Director Betsy Plante told Slicker 300 backpacks had already been donated to the hurricane relief efforts, but more are needed.

The donated backpacks and supplies will be delivered to Port St. Joe High School in Port St. Joe, where resident Jay Rish is helping to coordinate the distribution efforts. Rish is a friend of Robert DeMino, territory manager for U.S. Foods, the company that supplies the Swordfish Grill and several other local restaurants.

DeMino said Rish is a third-generation Port St. Joe resident and a prominent realtor and developer in the area. Port St. Joe is approximately 12 miles southeast of Mexico Beach, one of the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Michael.

According to Slicker, Rish said there’s already plenty of food and water making its way to the area and the comfort items will be greatly appreciated.

“What we are collecting are the best possible things for now,” Slicker said.

Slicker expects it will take at least a couple of days, maybe a week, to fill the trailers provided by Cortez businessman John Banyas.

“We’ll do it as long as we need to,” Slicker said.

“If you would like to make a cash donation, we will have our good friend Simon Lord purchase supplies for us and get those supplies up there also,” Slicker added.

“I was sitting there this morning sitting by myself, watching the news and crying and I thought I needed to do something.” – Bob Slicker, Swordfish Grill General Manager

Financial donations will be processed through the recently-created, SIRF-affiliated 501(c)(3) non-profit Florida Restaurant Employee Red Tide Relief Fund. The fund was established to provide relief to Cortez and Anna Maria Island restaurant employees and others impacted in future years by red tide outbreaks, hurricanes and the annual slow season.

On Monday afternoon, SIRF set up a wish list at that allows folks to order relief supplies to be delivered to the Swordfish Grill and then loaded onto a trailer headed for Port St. Joe. Visit SIRF online at their recently-launched website.

Slicker said the relief efforts will continue during the 7th Annual Cortez Stone Crab & Music Festival on Saturday, Nov. 10 and Sunday, Nov. 11.

“It’s almost November and the holidays are approaching. Some of those families will not be able to buy toys for their children. Toys probably aren’t on anyone’s priority list, but that’s going to be part of our focus working with The Blessing Bags Project,” Slicker said. “If you come to the stone crab festival, bring a toy to get in. We will make the festival a hurricane relief toy drive.”

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