Disasters have a way of bringing people together.

As the Panhandle cities affected by Hurricane Michael start to pick up the pieces, local churches and community leaders are banding together to help provide some relief.

“This is our time to be a light in a dark place,” said state Rep. Mel Ponder.

On Tuesday, a group of about 30 people from various churches in Destin, community and city organizations discussed how they can have the most impact and be the most helpful to those in need in the affected cities.

“The reason we’re here today is to get it all under one umbrella and get organized,” said Destin Chamber President and CEO Shane Moody.

“As soon as the hurricane began to show it’s face, we knew we would be called to do something,” added the Rev. Mike Hesse.

Ponder has been heavily involved in relief efforts since day one and updated the group on what the conditions and needs are in the Panhandle.

“If you have any passion for people, it’ll wreck you,” Ponder said about the level of devastation in Panama City.

Ponder said the simple amenities we take for granted, like cell service and showers, aren’t available to those impacted by the storm. The Red Cross and Salvation Army are on the scene, but Ponder said they can only do so much.

“Bay County is probably not gonna look the same for some time, maybe not for a generation,” Ponder said.

There are over 35 Emergency Supply Distribution Centers located throughout the Panhandle in the affected areas, but Ponder said they are running out of supplies faster than they can get them.

“We remember Opal and how it tore this place to pieces and how everybody in the world helped us,” said Hesse. “We turned around and helped out during Katrina … and so it’s just logical that we do our part again.”

The group discussed what they’ve already done individually to help with relief, such as providing clothing to displaced families locally, sending teams with chainsaws to clear roads and sending meals. But the big focus was trying to figure out how to streamline their efforts to have the most impact long-term instead of having multiple groups duplicating their efforts.

“The cameras will turn off and people will start to forget, but the struggle won’t be over,” Ponder said.

“Pretty soon, they’re gonna get power and the gas stations will work, but people’s homes will be wrecked and their work will be gone,” Hesse said. “Those needs will be ongoing. If we can focus our efforts on long term, both locally and the geographical areas over there, we can continue to make a difference in getting those people’s lives back to normal.”

By the end of the meeting, Rev. Eric Partin of Shoreline Church, Capt. Mike Parker, Hesse, Pastor Barry Carpenter of Destin United Methodist and Dr. Steven Davies of Village Baptist Church were selected to serve on the board of the Church of Destin.

Within the next week, the board will select which affected area will be focused on long-term.