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Dianne Hart, others help in post-Irma Tampa

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Electric power returned to Robles Park Village in East Tampa at 5:48 a.m. Thursday.

Community activist Dianne Hart knows that was the exact time, because she was there with an ice truck that had just arrived.

“The lights popped up as I was standing right there,” she said on Thursday afternoon while helping lead another public feeding on the surface of the basketball court of the public housing complex.

“I was praising God, because I didn’t know how many days I could do this. I haven’t slept. I haven’t been eating. But it’s been amazing. We’ve had volunteers, 50-60 show up every day.”

Hart, CEO of the East Tampa Business and Civic Association, lost power at her own East Tampa home on Monday after Hurricane Irma hit overnight. She said activist Connie Burton called her shortly after the sun came up that morning to ask her what could be done in Robles Park, where people were getting hotter and hungry.

Hart says she was able to pick up a truck and go to a local food bank and pack it with supplies.

“We went into Centro Place, we fed all our seniors as usual, then we came into Robles, where we actually cooked on burners,” she recalls, saying she did that on both Tuesday and Wednesday.

Later, officials with Hillsborough County and the City of Tampa were able to furnish meals and ice to the residents in Robles. She’s also made visits to Belmont Heights Estates and other public housing areas.

A longtime community activist, Hart narrowly lost a bid for House District 61 a year ago to attorney Sean Shaw, who announced on Thursday that he will be partnering with the Hillsborough County NAACP and Feeding Tampa Bay to hold a community barbecue at Belmont Heights on Friday afternoon.

At 5 p.m., Hart says she’ll be coordinating the last hot meal dinner of the week, now that things are slowly getting back to normal.

While Hart is leading efforts at the grassroots level, major corporations like the Tampa Bay Lightning are also getting involved in helping out in this time of need.

“When things happen in communities, it galvanizes them, it brings them all together and you’re seeing that right now,” said Steve Griggs, CEO of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Tampa Bay Storm and Amalie Arena. “No matter what walk of life you come from, you’re here to help your fellow citizen and that’s why we’re here.”

Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, his wife Penny and the Lightning contributed $1 million to the American Red Cross for Hurricane Harvey relief. The Lightning Foundation, the Florida Panthers Foundation, the National Hockey League and the NFL Players Association chipped in another $2.7 million this week for relief for Hurricane Irma victims.

There were more than a dozen volunteers working with the Lightning on Thursday distributing ice to local residents at Robles Park.

“This is something … we really like doing because we’re part of the community,” Griggs said.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at [email protected]

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