PANAMA CITY, Fla. — Some UCF students spent their spring break helping out people hit hard by one of the country’s worst natural disasters.

  • UCF students helped Hurricane Michael victims in Panhandle
  • Students were connected through initiative "Mission 850"
  • The volunteers helped clean up debris still around homes
  • READ IT: FEMA Hurricane Michael Fact Sheet

More than five months after Hurricane Michael hit the Florida Panhandle, many residents are still struggling to put their lives back together.

“Until I went up there, I had no idea how bad the damage was,” UCF student Rebecca Laing said. “We passed through some (areas) where it looked like many weren’t living in their houses yet, and a lot of stores were closed down.”

The faith-based initiative Mission 850 — named for Panama City’s area code — connects college and high school students across the country to people in the Panhandle who still need help rebuilding.

Laing, a UCF senior who works with Catholic Campus Ministry, jumped at the opportunity.

“It really is an honor to give up my spring break for people that need it more than I do,” she said.

Laing and others worked to remove debris that’s still surrounding people’s homes. The Federal Emergency Management Agency reports that almost 400 families are still living in hotels.

Laing hopes the students’ work will at least help some displaced residents return home sooner. She’s now back in Central Florida but says her service to storm victims is not over.

“Ever since we’ve left, the people of Panama City have been on my heart,” Laing said. “We’ve been praying for them here at Catholic Campus Ministry, just offering up prayers for them, for more help to come and for (them) to find peace in this time.”

FEMA officials continue to work with residents for their immediate needs and are helping local leaders establish long-term programs for recovery.