NAVARRE — Although Sharon Sims and her husband Don Powers are retired, they have been working what is nearly equivalent to a full-time job: cooking for victims of Hurricane Michael.
It began when Sims saw a post on Facebook about the destruction of the small communities about 100 miles east of her Navarre home. She looked at her husband and said, “Do you think we could do this to help some?”
Powers was all for the idea, but questioned where they would get the food and how they would pay for everything.
"You know me and my big mouth," she recalled telling him. And she began making phone calls.
“We’re like everybody; we have that one check a month, so we live end to end,” Sims said. “But I put my wants out there, and by the day I need it to cook, it’s in my garage, it's in my kitchen, it’s in my spare bedroom — wherever we need to put it.”
Plus, they understand the devastation first-hand. Sims and Powers lost everything during Hurricane Opal 23 years ago. So they decided if they were going to help, they would target the smaller communities where people still don’t have power, water or food and can’t return to work.
Sims contacted owners of local businesses that she knows personally. The owner of the Hachi Japanese Grill donated a truckload of hamburger and hotdog buns and charcoal.
Realtor Bart Pullum, the owners of Alphy’s Catfish House, and other local and national companies also donated to the cause. Caitlin Love State Farm has donated money for gas for each of the couple’s trips east.
And many others, who didn't want to be named, have been helping.
Sims took to social media to fill the remaining needs.
The members of the “Concerned Citizens of Navarre” Facebook page have come to know Sims’ name well. She starts each post with the words “Cooking For Storm Victims” and ends them with “People Helping People” and her phone number.
Her first post was just four days after the storm hit. She never imagined she'd get such an outpouring of support from the community.
The first couple of times they made the food, Sims said she got knots in her stomach, afraid that she wouldn’t have enough. But the community always pulled through.
People from other states who heard what they were doing have donated money, sent food orders to Navarre’s Walmart for Sims to pick up and even sent diapers to their house.
Their trips to Wewahitchka, Clarksville and surrounding areas started with hamburgers and hotdogs, but Sims and Powers quickly realized that wasn’t enough. So they started making hot meals like shepherd’s pie, chili and pot roast.
Now, they bring food on Mondays and Thursdays. They spend the days in between washing the dishes, organizing their stock of food, planning the next trip, coordinating with donors and, of course, cooking.
“We’ve never cooked in bulk like this,” Powers said. “It’s been a learning curve.”
But they don’t have a single regret. The couple plans to keep cooking through the holidays and as long as they possibly can.
They have even planned a huge Thanksgiving meal to bring to Clarksville on Wednesday. There are about 10 local residents who have volunteered to help them cook the feast.
For Christmas, Sims and Powers have partnered with A&R Custom Tinting in Gulf Breeze for a toy drive. The couple will bring food, toy donations and winter clothes to Clarksville on Dec. 9, along with a visit from Santa and his elves.
“We couldn’t do this without Navarre supporting us,” Sims said. “I want people to realize — there are people that want to help and don’t know what to do — there’s a lot you can do.
“We’re not doing this for publicity,” she added, crying. “We’re doing it because there’s a need. I get emotional, but when we’re over there, there are no tears. It’s only, ‘what can we do to help?’”
Sims and Powers have gotten attached to the people in Wewahitchka and Clarksville, they said. Through tears, they sat at their dining room table, taking a break from cooking, to tell several stories of people who have lost everything but remain tough.
“Their spirits are strong over there. They stick together,” Sims said. “And they always tell us to tell Navarre thank you.”