We Are United

**Originally published on June 17th, 2016 Our hearts go out to all those affected by the tragedy at Pulse Nightclub. It is difficult to believe that an event so devastating could take place in this community. Our deepest of sympathies go out to the family and friends of the 49 victims whose lives were cut short by such a senseless act– as well as to the survivors, first responders, and all those whose lives are forever changed by this heartbreaking event.

Many of our supporters have asked us to share  
our experiences over the past week. 

Our campus is located just seven-tenths of a mile from the site of Sunday’s tragedy. If this horrific event had taken place elsewhere- in another part of the city, state, or country- we would be desperate to hear a first-hand account of the state of the community from our family and friends in the area. And it is for that reason we have decided to share with you, our loving family of supporters, our experiences of this past week. While so many gut-wrenching details are repeatedly shared in the news, we don’t often get to hear the same beautiful details of the help, love and support that comes from all directions. Because of our close proximity to this awful tragedy, we had the opportunity to join together and offer assistance in some unique ways.

Redistributing water, ice and snack donations to blood banks and blood mobiles
The Oneblood donation center closest to the tragedy is just a block west of our campus. Nothing could have prepared their team or ours for the gigantic lines of people lining up to give blood– reported as sometimes being six hours long.
While their experienced staff and volunteers focused on the logistics of processing so many blood donations, our team handled organizing all water, food and ice donations. We worked with the OneBlood senior staff to re-direct all incoming donations to our campus, where we could properly chill large amounts of water in our walk-in coolers. Our team of volunteers filled shopping carts and wagons and made run after run over to the hundreds of people in line, providing them with cold water and snacks. Meanwhile, the donations kept pouring in as we became the unofficial collection site for food and beverage donations. We lost count at more than 40,000 water bottles, and generous individuals and companies from all over the world sent Amazon Prime Now grocery deliveries by the truckload. We’ve received pallets and pallets of granola bars, fruit, chips, muffins, breakfast pastries, kids snacks…the list goes on. Every time we turned around, a new vehicle was stopping in our parking lot to unload more donations.
In addition to shuttling items back and forth to our local OneBlood, our team spent days calling around to all the area blood banks, churches, and nonprofit organizations that might need supplies. We mobilized dozens of kind-hearted volunteers who offered up their own vehicles to deliver ice, water and snacks to places from Kissimmee to Sanford….most of them blood banks and bloodmobiles.

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Providing water to a crowd of 10,000 at Monday’s vigil  
<pstyle+”padding-bottom: 16px;”>Our team reached out to the City of Orlando and our partnering LGBT organizations to offer assistance in any that we could, and UP Orlando was tasked with being the official team responsible for distributing water at Monday’s candlelight vigil, held at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. <pstyle+”padding-bottom: 16px;”>We loaded up three box trucks with more than 18,000 bottles of water, thousands of pounds of ice, and as many coolers and large rolling bins as we could gather. More than 30 volunteers from our organization teamed up with other community volunteers to unload all three trucks and set-up water stations around the perimeter of the lawn area, where the vigil took place. Once the ceremony concluded, our team of dedicated volunteers worked another two hours picking up trash and getting supplies and donated items back onto our trucks.

Providing food for families of victims and survivors

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Through our partners at the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF), as well as the FBI, we’ve provided more than $1,500 (and counting) in vouchers for our Cost Share Grocery Program to families of victims and survivors. Because of our discounted model, this is the equivalent of $4,000 worth of food and household products!
Just today we have had three such families come in to gather the items they need for the coming days and weeks. DCF also called upon us for help in securing hot meals from local restaurants to provide for families of survivors in the hospital. In less than an hour, our team was able to secure 80 meal vouchers from our compassionate partners at Applebees, Cecil’s BAR-B-Q, Chick-fil-A and Peach Valley Cafe all located off of Orange Avenue.

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Distributing cold drinks on-scene
In addition to shuttling snacks and cold drinks back and forth to local blood centers, our team also walked two blocks down the closed Orange Avenue to hand out water to those on the scene. Families being interviewed, police officers, security personnel, media and community members were all thankful to be hydrated on during such hot and humid weather.

Love brings light in the darkness.
<pstyle+”padding-bottom: 16px;”>In the past several days we have been surrounded by remarkable acts of love, compassion and selflessness by community members, local businesses and fellow nonprofit organizations. Individuals from all walks of life flocked to our campus to do what they could to help. The volunteers our team worked alongside were so inspiring. One volunteer  we encountered sadly knew two of the victims, and showed one of our staff his last laughter-filled text messages with his friend, from days before the massacre. We had several individuals who were turned away from giving blood due to long lines come to us, desperate to give back in whatever way they could. We met a woman who wandered around the area, looking for a place to help out; she ended up spending the entire day doing manual labor on our campus. <pstyle+”padding-bottom: 16px;”>We had corporations come by and dedicate their business resources to help fill our outstanding needs. Children accompanied their parents to volunteer, working harder than we thought they were capable. We saw plenty of familiar faces, too. Frequent volunteers and board members rushed over to lend a hand. A church group that has supported us for more than a decade hit the ground running as soon as they stepped foot on campus. Past team members came by to pitch in. Our dedicated staff worked more than 15 hours a day, several days in a row. Everyone here is taking care of one another right now. Everywhere you look, you see people doing what they can to lend a hand.