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No one can hide from tragedy. There is no safe place on the planet. We are all in constant peril. Thank God we have friends.

That’s the story that’s emerging in the produce industry in the wake of two of the most devastating storms ever to strike the mainland U.S., Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which blasted Texas and Louisiana, and Florida, South Georgia and southern South Carolina back-to-back.

Private relief efforts have reportedly provided quicker and more reliable assistance than FEMA in the wake of Irma, reports from the ground say. Here, volunteers ready water for distribution in the Keys, while above, supplies are offloaded from a Samaritan’s Purse plane.

The Produce Marketing Association (PMA) may be headquartered in Newark, DE but it has had its ear firmly to the ground in the wake of Harvey and Irma, reaching out to membership in affected areas for updates and with offers of help.

In the midst of crisis and disaster, the organization has heard some heartening tales.

‘Fierce Competitors And Fast Friends’

“The hallmark of this industry is that our members are fierce competitors and fast friends,” PMA Vice President of Industry Relations Kathy Means told SPW Sept. 21. “They compete fiercely, then when tragedy strikes – that’s anything from a fire at a packinghouse to Irma or an earthquake – it’s just amazing to me what happens. Actually it’s not amazing – I know these people and I know their hearts and why these things happen. They can be competitors and friends at the same time.”

PMA’s Kathy Means

In the wake of Harvey and Irma, PMA has been calling members in affected areas and emailing those it cannot reach.

While there are tales of woe aplenty, there are also takes of selflessness and kindness that are striking.

“Nobody has a bigger heart than the produce industry,” Means said. “When you have a big heart it doesn’t matter what the crisis. After Harvey and Irma we have reached out to our members in the affected areas — how are their fields, how are their businesses – and communicated with the whole industry and we have been warmed by the response.”

Before the storm had even hit – “before people were even talking about it,” Means says – one apple grower in the Pacific Northwest was already sending trucks of fruit into Houston. Another grower in Georgia was readying a truckload of watermelon to ship South to disaster zones when a neighboring farmer asked if he had room for a few pallets of cantaloupe, too.

Days ahead of Irma, Atlanta distributor the Nickey Gregory Company was shipping truckloads of water to its Miami warehouse for disaster relief there and in the Caribbean. One PMA member was asking employees to bring in not only clothing and blankets, but toys for children displaced by the storms.

Trucks from Atlanta distributor the Nickey Gregory Company have been a familiar site on Florida roads in transit from the Atlanta warehouse, shown here.

“And everybody else has been doing the same, whether it’s money or clothing or blankets or other relief efforts,” Means said. “As bad as these tragedies are, they do bring to light the great heart of our industry and they do reflect so well on how our folks reach out even before they’re asked. There are hundreds of stories and once again it points to an industry that acts out of compassion, not out of publicity. We’ll never hear all the stories – the only reason we know these is because we asked. I’m just so proud of the response I’ve seen.”

Money Is Still The Primary Need

While money is still the primary need after a disaster, the produce industry is uniquely positioned to help out with shipments of food and other items since it controls its own logistics.

“What I love about it most is different people think about different things — we do it by sending money, we do it by prepositioning food trucks, just like FEMA does, but nobody tells us what to do,” Means says. “It’s a tragedy but it’s a good analogy for business – shouldn’t we all be thinking that way at all times? What could go wrong and how do we prepare for it and what opportunities are ahead and how do we prepare for those?”

The need will continue and in fact only grow in coming days. For more on how you can help – or get help if you need it – click here.

And give, give, give until it hurts, Means said – but do so with one eye open.

“Companies should reach out however they can but it’s a good idea to reach out to relief agencies and see what they need. This industry has been so generous and will continue to be so generous but whether you’re donating to a big national effort like the Red Cross or a local food bank or smaller charities that popped up make sure it’s a real charity.”

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