Hurricanes call siblings to action

VINLAND — Geographically, Washington is about the furthest state away in the lower 48 one can be from the hurricane-ravaged state of Florida.

But the effects of four devastating storms can be felt all the way to the Evergreen State.

For Vinland students and siblings Andy and Madison Phelps, hard-hit Florida also hits close to home. Madison and Andy’s Uncle Bill and Aunt Tera, along with their two children, had many of their belongings and much of their Pensecola-area home destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in September.

“The kitchen was still standing and one of the bedrooms, but most of the walls had been blown off,” said Andy and Madison’s mother, Michelle. “My niece lost all of her toys and all of her clothes.”

But the disaster facing their relatives proved to be a mission for Andy and Madison to help their family — on the opposite side of the country — rebuild their lives.

“Me and Madison thought to raise money,” Andy said. “We went to soccer games and then through our neighborhood.”

In just three days, Sept. 25-27, the pair visited roughly 150 homes in the Woods and Meadows neighborhood and also attended a few North Kitsap Soccer Club games raising $1,150 for their Florida relatives.

Andy and Madison’s plan was to sell snacks to raise money for their aunt and uncle’s cause. But they also added a human face to the cause — a picture they wore to show families just who they’d be benefiting if they chose to chip in to help.

“Lots of people ask for money,” Andy said, “But they don’t know who the people are — so we showed them a picture.”

Their aunt and uncle and two cousins had evacuated for two nights away from Pensecola when the storm hit. They returned to the area only to be told by police to sleep in their car, as their heavily damaged home was unsafe.

After three days in a car, they were fortunate enough to get an apartment with electricity, which was unusual in a place where power outages and downed telephone lines are rampant and there is even a curfew for citizens in the area.

All the while, Andy and Madison worked to raise money to help their relatives.

“Before we had started walking from house to house, but we decided to go on our bikes because we could go to more houses faster,” Madison said.

Andy and Madison thought often of their cousin Haley, who had lost almost all of her toys to the hurricane.

“I wanted to help my cousins get more to play with because hurricanes usually take it away,” Madison said.

“I love them very much and just wanted to help,” Andy added, tears forming in his eyes.

The funds were a blessing for the Phelps’ family in Florida — their Aunt Tera had just written a bad check as funds were running out. Andy relayed the news of raising over $1,000 himself to his aunt.

Now, the Phelps’ relatives have insurance help and things are getting a little more normal — at least as normal as can be expected following a devastating hurricane. School is out for at least a month, Michelle Phelps said, and their house will likely take seven months of rebuilding.

For Andy and Madison, it is a lesson in compassion learned.

“It taught us how to care about others,” Madison said.

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