VENICE — Over the past month, the Salvation Army in Venice has seen a 40 percent increase in requests for help from families, many of whom work in the service industry and have lost jobs or wages because of the persistent red tide.
In hopes of coordinating efforts for what some fear may be a spike in need rivaling, if not exceeding, what came in last year after Hurricane Irma, Capt. Jamie Bell and Capt. Nichole Bell called a meeting of area nonprofits.
A main concern of the two dozen people who attended, and the agencies they represent, is that the stigma of red tide will outlast the impact.
"That's why it was important for us to meet," said Jamie Bell. "If our annual winter residents, our snowbirds, are already receiving word, 'Listen, it's not going to be your typical experience coming down, you need to hold off,' that will prolong the economic impact that small businesses and employees are feeling."
That impact could roll into the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons, when those nonprofits are already helping people get through the holidays.
Efforts to quantify the impact of red tide on area businesses and their workers have already started.
The Salvation Army is coordinating with Venice MainStreet and the Venice Area Chamber of Commerce on a survey of area businesses to gauge the impact.
Regionally, Christina Russi, a community fiscal agent and liaison with the Glasser-Schoenbaum Human Services Center, said there have been some requests for Season of Sharing money related to red tide. At the request of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, those requests are now being tracked.
Russi said she just gave the Manatee Community Foundation more than 33,000 rack cards with information on the 211 help line, which will be distributed to people in the service industry.
United Way Suncoast is also interested in tracking whether red tide is prompting requests for aid.
Anastasia Rogers, a social worker with the Salvation Army in Venice, said she was seeing people who would be considered at the ALICE threshold — Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed — as defined in a 2017 report by the United Way of Florida, coming in for help since the red tide outbreak.
Reina Buzzi, a program manager with Catholic Charities, said she, too, has had more calls over the past two months — many related to red tide.
Luldes Frechette, of Good Samaritan Pharmacy and Health Services, said she's seen an increase in requests for inhalers because of red tide.
"We go through anywhere from three to five inhalers a night," she said. "Even for us, inhalers are quite significant."
She added that some household heads who qualify under ALICE guidelines have not been able to go into work because of respiratory issues.
Donald Dixon, social services director for the Florida Divisional Headquarters of the Salvation Army, said working families who meet the ALICE guidelines — essentially one emergency or missed paycheck away from falling into poverty — "are always on the precipice of going over the side of the mountain.
"I think it's been made worse by red tide; I'm not sure how much," he added. "I think it's one of the opportunities we want to tackle."
Venice Mayor John Holic, who attended in his capacity as a board member of the United Way of South Sarasota County, said that those in attendance should be active in lobbying elected officials regionally and nationally about the need for additional help.
Ed DeMarco, CEO of the Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness, noted that red tide could have a greater impact on Sarasota County than Hurricane Irma and questioned whether the Federal Emergency Management Agency would get involved.
Dixon, who came to the meeting from his office in Lutz, north of Tampa, helped to refocus the discussion, which also touched upon the continuing problems with attainable housing and homelessness, back on red tide.
He suggested the housing issue be uncoupled from red tide, for now, as the nonprofits and agencies work on being better coordinated.
Bell cited as key takeaways from the meeting a need for the players to keep in communication through email, especially once results from the survey with Venice MainStreet and the Venice Area Chamber of Commerce are available, to coordinate better with the federal Homeless Management Information System and to draft a letter to city, county and state government officials using their combined voices.