Gulf County Snowbirds help residents have a fresh start

GULF COUNTY, Fla (WJHG) - Many snowbirds call Gulf County home for the winter months and even after the hurricane, tourism officials say most still decided to come this year, but it's been a little different. Some visitors are choosing to help community members get a fresh start.

They're bringing things like simple household items.

"Obviously, comforters, sheets, and we have blankets," Gulf County snowbird, Beck Quinlan said.

To most people, these items are easy to come by, but for many people in Gulf County that hasn't been the case since Hurricane Michael.

Despite the damage the county sustained, snowbirds are still choosing to spend their winter in Gulf County.

"Once I found out that my home was livable, and still intact, I wanted to not only spend the winter here but do whatever I can do to help rebuild the area," Gulf County Snowbird, Jackie Curtis said.

Jackie Curtis has only been coming to Gulf County during the winter for two years, but like many other snowbirds, she wanted to help.

She's been volunteering with A Fresh Start at Home, a shop in a warehouse with the goal of providing free furniture and household goods to individuals and families in Port St. Joe, Gulf County, and Mexico Beach.

"It's really not the stuff, part of it is the stuff, but the rest of it is that we work with people one-on-one and give them encouragement and maybe even a lift, a morale boost," Quinlan said.

Becky Quinlan came up with the idea and so far the free shop has helped more than 100 people.

"So many people come in who have lost everything. They don't have anything, they don't have a bed, they don't have a chair, they don't have anything," Curtis said.

Snowbirds are spending their time volunteering, and that's why the Gulf County Tourist Development Council created a calendar that outlines all the volunteer efforts that they can do while they are spending their time in Gulf County.

"So, they encouraged us to start what we are calling our 'voluntourism' calendar. So, there are things like adopt a highway to clean up, park beautification projects," Executive Director of Gulf County Tourist Development Council, Kelli Godwin said.

It just takes a few people with a small idea to make a big difference.